(CNN) It is one of the most watched soccer leagues in the world, with some of the best players in the world. But nobody is talking about the ‘beautiful game’ this week after the disgraceful racial abuse against Real Madrid star Vinícius Jr. Putting La Liga into crisis management mode.
Spanish football and the country’s judicial system did not start until the tenth incident of racial insults against Vinicius was reported during a LaLiga match from 2021, this time in Valencia, this Sunday.
The Police made seven arrests last Tuesday; the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) launched a new campaign against racism and ordered the partial closure of the Valencia stadium; and LaLiga formally requested that it be given sanctioning powers to better fight racism.
La Liga told CNN it does not have the authority to impose penalties on clubs or fans. Instead, it must refer investigations into incidents of racial abuse to local prosecutors, who handle them as legal cases.
But why this sudden flurry of activity after episode #10, when the previous nine racist incidents weren’t similar enough to inspire meaningful action?
The answer, according to a former marketing executive, is money and fame.
Vinicius Jr. points. on a fan in the stands who allegedly insulted him on racial grounds during Real Madrid’s game in Valencia. (Photo: Mateo Villalba/Quality Sports Images/Getty Images)
For the first time, Vinicius – one of the most talented and recognized players in the world – has hinted that his future may not lie in the Iberian nation, with the Spanish media abuzz with suggestions that these events could affect a joint bid of Spain until the year 2030. The World Cup – with Portugal, Morocco and Ukraine -, an event that could mean billions of dollars for the country.
Ricardo Fort, former director of Global Sponsorships for Visa and Coca-Cola, said brands that have sponsorship deals with La Liga may even start rethinking those deals.
“Sponsors, if they’re doing their job, their PR teams are monitoring how much they engage in the conversation or how often their brands are mentioned on social media and in the press,” Fort told CNN Sport.
“They probably have a statement ready if they feel they have to, but they’re more likely to save it to use only if absolutely necessary. They all want to stay out of the conversation, so they don’t get involved in the problem.
“In the background, they are also calling the people they have to manage their relationships in LaLiga, asking them to provide them with updates and to know what their plan is. Perhaps some of the CEOs are asking their marketing teams whether or not this is sustainable or whether they should continue to be involved with LaLiga.
‘Why are we involved in this?’
Fort compares the current situation in Spain with the consequences of the FIFA corruption scandal in 2015.
Swiss Police then made several arrests during a raid on a hotel where FIFA executives were staying, and many senior officials were charged with money laundering, fraud and blackmail, in what was arguably the biggest scandal to ever hit world football. .
The investigation led to the convictions and prison terms of several powerful former soccer officials.
At the time, Fort worked with Visa – one of FIFA’s main sponsors – and says there is “a lot of pressure” from multiple parties on organizations like FIFA and LaLiga in crisis management situations like this.
Fort claims the CEOs asked Sepp Blatter to resign as FIFA president. (Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)
“The press wants statements, you have investor relations, which means the big holders of all these companies ask them questions,” says Fort.
“Board members call the CEO to ask them what the company is going to do, and employees – depending on the situation – say, ‘Why are we involved in this?'”
At a meeting with its sponsors in Zurich, Fort says FIFA laid out its plan to establish an independent ethics commission. However, when the CEOs of FIFA’s sponsors were not comfortable with the plan, they called then-chairman Sepp Blatter to demand management changes.
“I know the CEO of Coca-Cola at the time, Muhtar Kent, called Sepp Blatter and said, ‘September, it’s time to go,'” Fort recalls. “So this is the kind of thing, if there is no solution in the sky, some CEO can do.”
“There is a loss of confidence in LaLiga’s ability to manage the crisis and find solutions,” says Fort. “Now, if I were a sponsor, I would demand changes in management and that starts with the president.”
This same week, the head of the RFEF, Luis Rubiales, criticized the president of LaLiga, Javier Tebas, who attacked Vinicius on Twitter after last Sunday’s game.
“The directors are not here to participate in a confrontation on social networks, we are here to try to solve problems, and this footballer was attacked very seriously,” said Rubiales.
“I think Javier Tebas is not prepared, equipped or interested in solving the problem,” adds Fort.
Javier Tebas has been criticized for LaLiga’s handling of racist insults. (Photo: Isabel Infantes/Reuters)
While removing the president of an organization is not “very effective in driving a solution” to the situation, Fort explains, it at least shows the funders that the organization is “willing” to make big changes.
“That’s important,” he says.
La Liga was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNN, but Tebas issued an apology on Wednesday, saying it was not his intention to attack Vinicius.
“But if the people in Brazil understood it that way, I have to apologize,” he told ESPN Brasil. “That was not my intention. I expressed myself badly, at a bad time … but I did not intend to attack Vinicius”.
A banner at the Santiago Bernabéu reads “We are all Vinicius, enough is enough” before Real Madrid’s match against Rayo Vallecano. (Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images)
The consequences of this Sunday’s incident at the Mestalla Stadium even took a diplomatic turn when the president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and other government officials took part.
Brazil’s Racial Equality Minister, Anielle Franco, said on Monday that she had already asked the Spanish Prosecutor’s Office and Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister to investigate, while Brazil’s Justice Minister, Flávio Dino, tweeted about possibility of “foreignness.” ” — to enforce the laws of Brazil in Spain—if the Spanish authorities did not protect Vinicius.
The incident even prompted comments from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, who said that what happened at the Mestalla Stadium “is a stark reminder of the prevalence of racism in sport.”
“I ask those who organize sporting events to have strategies to prevent and fight racism,” he said.
Fort calculates that many of LaLiga’s sponsorship deals could be between US$5 and US$10 million per season; a “significant” amount, he says, but it will certainly not have a “significant” financial impact given LaLiga’s income.
According to Reuters, LaLiga expects the total value of its business to rise from US$26 billion to nearly US$38 billion within seven to 10 years.
However, what can “really hurt” LaLiga is the ongoing impact on its reputation, which would be worse if sponsors canceled their deals with the league, according to Fort.
“If a well-known brand leaves because they don’t trust LaLiga’s commitment to fighting racism, I think that will affect them the next time they sign broadcast or sponsorship contracts,” says Fort.
The statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro turned off its lights in solidarity with Vinícius. (Photo: Carlos Fabal/AFP/Getty Images)
It can also provide a boost to rivals as other European leagues benefit from LaLiga’s mess.
On Tuesday, Italian Serie A CEO Luigi De Siervo declared that the league will take a “zero tolerance” approach towards racist fans, according to Reuters.
“If you’re from Serie A, Ligue 1 or the Bundesliga, you’re going to be talking about racism in every area of sales you do in the years to come,” says De Siervo.
“You’re going to tell your potential clients that, unlike other countries, you don’t have a problem with racism. I think this will damage LaLiga from a commercial point of view”.
“We don’t know the amount, but I think it will happen over time, and they may not lose money. They know that they may not have less income, but they will grow more slowly than they would have otherwise.”
™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.