La Liga chief Javier Tebas insisted Thursday he didn’t mean “to criticise” Vinicius Junior following a charged exchange on Twitter after the Real Madrid forward was racially abused during a march.
The incident on Sunday, when the 22-year-old Brazilian star was subjected to racist taunting as Real Madrid lost to Valencia, kicked up a storm over whether Spain is doing enough to stamp out racism in football.
Later, Vinicius hit out at La Liga on Twitter saying it “belongs to racists” prompting Tebas to respond with several tweets that appeared critical of the player.
“I didn’t want to criticise Vinicius,” Tebas told reporters.
“My frustration was my mistake. I understand that Vinicius is frustrated because he doesn’t understand about the division of powers (for dealing with racism), but I’m also frustrated because I do know about it and there were no sanctions.”
Tebas said he hadn’t yet spoken to Vinicius but would be willing to do so and would say: “‘I’m sorry if you felt offended but I wasn’t trying to attack you’ and I would tell him again that like him, I’m also frustrated.”
In his tweet on Sunday night, Tebas wrote: “before criticising and insulting La Liga, you need to be properly informed” about the division of powers when it comes to imposing sanctions.
Under Spanish law, La Liga can only identify and report cases of racism but it is not empowered to impose sanctions.
On Tuesday, it called for more sanctioning power to act against fans for violent, racist or xenophobic behaviour, saying it felt “powerless” when its incident reports failed to result in any punitive action.
Tebas said only the Spanish football federation had the ability to impose sanctions and reiterated calls for La Liga to be granted sanctioning power.
“We want the power to act because with that, we’re sure that within months, we’ll be able to resolve this problem,” he said.
Tebas said that when he took over as league chief in 2013, the stadiums were filled with “racist and homophobic chanting. I remember people shouting ‘Messi is retarded’,” he said.
“We insisted that this disappear from the stadiums and we did it,” he said, adding: “We are very aware that Vinicius is being insulted because he’s such a great player.”
He also expressed frustration that no other body had supported La Liga when it filed legal complaints about racism in stadiums, especially when it came to the case of Vinicius.
“In all our complaints, we have filed suit alone, we’ve never been backed by any other institution and in Vinicius’ case, not even by Real Madrid,” he said after the club accused La Liga and the federation of being passive.
La Liga has filed various lawsuits in relation to racist abuse suffered by Vinicius
“Vinicius is different. He’s not your average player. I’m convinced that he’ll win the Ballon d’Or at some stage,” Tebas said, adding he hoped the Brazilian would keep playing in the Spanish league because “he’s a very important asset for his club and for La Liga”.
He said the league had been carefully watching Vinicius’ away games for any further signs of racial abuse.
Tebas said he was worried that what had happened could affect the Spanish league’s image, insisting that “Spain is not a racist country and Spanish football isn’t racist.”
“It’s a blow but there’s no point crying about it. We have to work to restore any reputation that may have been lost,” said Tebas, who said he doesn’t think the scandal will affect Spain, Portugal and Morocco’s joint bid for the 2030 World Cup.
“I hope this doesn’t affect it, we’re showing what we’re going and we will get better,” he said. “It’s still a long way off.”