MADRID, June 10 — Three Valencia fans were handed eight-month jail terms Monday for racist abuse towards Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior at a La Liga match last year that sparked international outrage, a court ruling showed.

The defendants, who were not identified, were convicted of an offence against moral integrity with the aggravating factor of racially motivated discrimination, the Valencia court said.

They were also slapped with a two-year match ban. With no previous criminal record, none will serve jail time as judges habitually suspend prison sentences of less than two years for first-time offenders.

In a statement, Real Madrid said: “The conviction is the first of its kind to be handed down by criminal courts and tribunals.”

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The incident took place on May 21, 2023 when Real Madrid played away to Valencia at the Mestalla stadium during a match which saw home fans hurling abuse and chanting monkey noises at the Brazilian forward.

Play was halted as Vinicius stood in front of fans and pointed at those responsible, prompting stadium officials to demand an end to racist insults before the match could resume.

All three “shouted and chanted at the player with... evident contempt for the colour of his skin... making racist gestures of contempt and causing him to feel frustration, shame and humiliation”, court documents showed.

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It said they were “simulating the gestures made by primates and repeatedly making... the sound made by monkeys” in front of a full stadium and a “massive” TV, radio and media audience.

Real Madrid said all three had admitted their wrongdoing and sent a letter of apology to Vinicius, to the club and to everyone else “who felt belittled or offended by their behaviour”, urging fans to avoid all expressions of “racism and intolerance”.

Years of abuse

The incident, the latest in a string of racist attacks on the player, sparked an international outcry with Brazil lodging a diplomatic protest and turning off the lights on Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue in solidarity.

Real Madrid filed a criminal complaint and within days, police arrested three youths for “insults and gestures with racist overtones” at the Valencia match on suspicion of “an alleged hate crime” — an offence which includes racist behaviour.

Now 23, Vinicius has been taunted by opposition fans since joining Real Madrid in 2018, suffering racist abuse at several Spanish stadiums.

In January 2023, a dark-skinned effigy wearing a Vinicius shirt was found hanging from a bridge near the club’s training ground alongside a banner saying: “Madrid hates Real”.

In December, four Atletico Madrid fans were charged over the incident, with prosecutors pushing for jail terms of four years. No date has yet been set for a trial.

The Valencia incident sparked a fierce debate about whether Spain is doing enough to stamp out racism in football. — AFP