Have you heard the story of Vini? Vinicius Junior, just like many heroes we know, rose from a little known ambitious young man, to one of the most inspiring sports stars in the world. This 23-year-old Brazilian professional footballer took football pitches by a storm for the past three years, due to his speed and dribbling skills.
The world came to know, amidst all this glory that he has been subjected to racial abuse by opposing fans, players, referees in the Spanish football league, known as the La Liga.
While we as human beings are celebrating how civilised our world has become, it seems we failed a test this May in Valencia. In a recent La Liga football match between Vini and his Real Madrid teammates against Valencia, hundreds of Valencia fans targeted the Brazilian dark skinned player with racial slurs, calling him monkey and imitating monkey sounds, to provoke Vini and throw him off balance.
It was too little and too late when Spanish authorities, after strong actions taken by the Brazilian government led by President Lula da Silva defending his compatriot, decided to arrest seven Valencia fans of hate crime charges, and fine their club and partially close, this is no serious way of standing up to an evil such as systematic racism.
In just one category of hate crimes, the year 2021-2022 witnessed more than 7,000 Islamophobic crimes, in just six countries in Europe, according to Al Jazeera.
Sadly, while Vini joins a long list of amazing talents who suffered because of racism, that includes Super Mario Balotelli and Samuel Eto’o, the fact that ugly racism is rearing its head is not a Spain or European Union problem, but a global socio-economic and political phenomena, including in our region, that we must invest our energy, time and money in eliminating it together before it eliminates us.
The adoption of austerity has been on the rise as a public policy by governments around the world since the global financial crisis of 2008. This meant shrinking public services budgets, privatising services and rising fees, in addition to rising taxes and overall cost of living, with all of this leading to a decreasing purchasing power and a helplessly shrinking middle income class. This applies similarly across the world from thousands of Valencia fans to millions of the former US President Donald Trump supporters.
We can see this in Europe, especially where austerity measures were applied stringently such as in Spain, Italy and Portugal, coupled with rising immigration unleashed tides of ethnocentrist, abusive rhetoric, not only against immigrants, but also against any vulnerable group or individual seen as “not one of us” such as the case with Vinicius Junior.
“Morals of oppressed peoples deteriorate,” is a saying attributed to the father of modern sociology the Scholar Ibn Khaldun. This is evident in a society’s silent, gradual acceptance of the spread of substandard ethical practices such as lying, bullying, cheating, bribery. Even one would assume that oppressed communities with global south heritage would be more just, this is not the case.
In a recent Al Jazeera study, more than 40 per cent of Palestinian study subjects did not see discrimination against dark skinned people as a problem, and I still remember how many millions around the world were disappointed when in World Cup 1998 the disgraced French football star Zinedin Zidan, who has Muslim heritage, stomping on the Saudi player Fuad Anwar showing Zidan’s deteriorating morals of oppressed people.
Expressing diverse points of views enriches our lives, and systems that unreasonably limit these natural human expression tendencies are similar to trying to limit the flow of a running river; water will always find a way to flow. For humans, from all income classes, increasing pressure turns into a lost of faith in the fairness of a “rigged” system. In particular, a shrinking middle income class mean deteriorating public manners, and it is the responsibility of reasonable decision makers to take the road less travelled by and do the right thing.
We should thank Vini for his perseverance for three years, and for reminding us of the significance of investing in standing for justice and against any form of injustice, especially when an injustice is committed by someone considered one of our own people to set an example.