Black players shouldn’t have to decide alone whether to walk off pitch
The racist abuse of Real Madrid forward Vinicius Jr by Valencia supporters on Sunday feels like a tipping point for many in the game in favour of decisive action by players.
Valencia have been hit with a partial stadium closure and fined 45,000 euros (£39,000) by the Spanish authorities but described the decision to close the Mestalla’s south stand for five games as “disproportionate, unjust and unprecedented”, and intend to appeal that part of the sanction.
Vinicius’s stoppage-time red card has also been rescinded, meaning he will not serve a suspension, but will not be involved in Madrid’s LaLiga match on Wednesday evening.
Faith in the authorities — whether at national level or by UEFA and FIFA — to tackle racism has long since evaporated, however (by way of example, Javier Tebas, the president of La Liga, has criticised Vinicius, drawing on a grim perception in some quarters of the country that the Brazilian somehow provokes the abusers), and the incident has again raised the familiar question of whether players should walk off the pitch.
“There are no more slogans left. No more campaigns,” said Ian Wright, who is among those to urge players to do so. “No more conversations to be had. Enough. We have to affect the money. That’s all they care about.”
So far, elite players have understandably been reluctant to commit to a walk-off and, in many cases, the decision has seemingly been left to the abused in question, as it was at the Mestalla.
Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois has revealed the team followed Vinicius’s lead, saying: “If Vini wants to keep playing, we keep playing, but if Vini says he’s not playing any more, I’m leaving the pitch with him.”
Courtois’ comments come from a place of solidarity with his team-mate, and this is not to criticise the goalkeeper, but it is time to recognise that walking off the pitch should not solely be a decision for black players.
White footballers have not lived racism like their peers, but it is a scourge on the game as a whole and an issue for all players to tackle, whatever their ethnicity.
Every player on the pitch — black or white, Madrid or Valencia — could see the impact on Vinicius, who was reduced to tears.
It should not fall to black players, particularly in the midst of such a distressing situation, to have to make such a seismic call, not least because in many cases there is a desire to show defiance, and concern at seemingly letting down team-mates, staff and their own fans.
Had Madrid’s white players, including Courtois, taken the decision out of Vinicius’s hands, it would have sent a powerful message to the abusers and the game that racism is not a problem that black players should have to face alone.