Prison sentences for Valencia fans for racial insults towards footballer Vinicius Jr. GETTY IMAGES

Three Valencia football fans have each been sentenced to eight months in jail for racially abusing Real Madrid star Vinicius Jr. According to LaLiga, these are the first convictions for racist abuse at a football match in Spain and were hailed as "great news for the fight against racism."

The Brazilian star of Real Madrid has expressed his satisfaction with the eight-month prison sentences handed down to supporters on Monday for incidents that took place during a La Liga match in 2023. Real Madrid, LaLiga, the Brazilian Football Confederation and FIFA have all expressed their approval of the sentences.

"This first criminal sentence in Spanish history is not for me. It is for all black people," the Real Madrid and Brazil forward wrote on social media. Vinicius Jr, one of the stars of the recently-crowned Champions League winners, celebrated the eight-month sentences handed down on Monday to three Valencia fans convicted of racially abusing him during a La Liga match last year.

The incidents date back to 21 May, when three fans began hurling insults at the player during a match between Valencia and Real Madrid at the Mestalla. The game was stopped. Vinicius stopped the game and pointed out the culprits. The game was not resumed until the fans had been silenced.

The insults were directed at him with "obvious contempt for the colour of his skin... making racist gestures of contempt and causing him to feel frustrated, shamed and humiliated", according to court documents. The documents go on to say that the fans were "imitating the gestures of primates and repeatedly making the sound that is made by monkeys." All of this happened in front of a huge, packed stadium.

"However, as I have always said, I am not a victim of racism. I am a destroyer of racists. Let other racists be afraid, ashamed and hide in the shadows. Otherwise, I will be here to collect the debt," Vinicius wrote on social media. He went on to thank La Liga and Real Madrid for helping to make this "historic ruling" happen.

The defendants, who were not identified, were convicted of an offence against moral integrity. The aggravating factor was racial discrimination, the Valencia court said. They are also banned from entering a football stadium for the next two years. Under Spanish law, those convicted with no previous convictions can avoid jail time as this is their first conviction.

Institutional condemnation and celebration of the sentences was unanimous. Spain's La Liga praised the verdict as "the first sentence for racist abuse in a Spanish football stadium." President Javier Tebas said, "This sentence is very good news for the fight against racism in Spain." He stressed this sentence sends a message to anyone who insults that they will be identified, prosecuted and that the law will come down on them.

Vinicius arriving to testify in the Spanish courts regarding the case. GETTY IMAGES
Vinicius arriving to testify in the Spanish courts regarding the case. GETTY IMAGES

Similarly, Gianni Infantino, president of world football's governing body FIFA, wrote on Instagram that the decision was "a positive step". "Our message to people anywhere in the world who engage in racist behaviour when it comes to football is clear: we don't want you," he wrote.

The president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, Ednaldo Rodrigues, called for harsher punishments to be imposed for such incidents. He described the decision as "light". Rodrigues said, "The decision is a start, a way, and shows the importance of social pressure for the authorities to really get involved in this fight against racism.

Another institution that expressed satisfaction was Real Madrid. In a statement, the club acknowledged that those convicted had apologised and urged fans to avoid any expression of "racism and intolerance". Vinicius has been the subject of constant abuse and insults in recent years. 

So much that Brazil felt compelled to protest diplomatically. The lights on the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro were switched off in solidarity. Real Madrid filed a criminal complaint. Within days, police arrested three young men. The spotlight has always been on the Brazilian. 

His incidents have been more widely reported, especially since he joined Real Madrid in 2018, due to his prominence as one of the world's football stars. Last year, he was also involved in incidents involving racial abuse.

An effigy of a dark-skinned man wearing a Vinicius shirt was found hanging from a bridge near the club's training ground, next to a banner that read: "Madrid hates Real". 

The alleged perpetrators, believed to be fans of Atletico Madrid, another team from the Spanish capital and a rival of Real Madrid, have been charged. Prosecutors are seeking four-year prison sentences. The case is still pending.