Three individuals from Valencia have been handed eight-month prison sentences for committing hate crimes against Vinícius Júnior of Real Madrid, marking the first conviction related to racist abuse at a football match in Spain, as stated by La Liga.

The incident dates back to a match in May last year when multiple Valencia fans directed racist slurs at the Brazilian footballer. The match was temporarily halted as Vinícius indicated a Valencia fan in the stands, informing his teammates that the individual had racially abused him, using derogatory language and mimicking ape gestures.

The emotional images of Vinícius on the Valencia pitch, visibly distressed, garnered global attention, once again highlighting Spanish football’s persistent struggle against racism. While Valencia took action by banning the fans involved, Vinícius remained resolute, declaring, “I will confront racism until the very end.”

Over a year later, on Monday, La Liga announced that three individuals had been convicted for their racist behavior. Alongside the prison sentences, they were slapped with a two-year stadium ban and ordered to cover legal costs. Additionally, they were required to publicly apologize to Vinícius, La Liga, and Real Madrid.

An agreement reached during the investigation reduced their sentences by a third. However, without cooperation, they would have faced 12 months in prison and a three-year stadium ban.

Despite the convictions, it’s uncertain whether the defendants will serve jail time, as nonviolent crimes with sentences under two years generally don’t lead to imprisonment in Spain unless the offender has a prior criminal record.

La Liga hailed the ruling as a significant step forward, emphasizing its commitment to identifying and penalizing individuals who engage in hateful conduct at football matches.

The league, Real Madrid, and Vinícius jointly brought the case to court, marking the first conviction of its kind in Spain. La Liga reiterated its call for legislative changes to grant the league authority to sanction clubs, fans, or players for discriminatory behavior directly.

Javier Tebas, La Liga’s president, echoed the need for expedited measures to combat racism, emphasizing Spain’s commitment to judicial integrity.

The conviction was welcomed by Esteban Ibarra, head of Spain’s Movement Against Intolerance, Racism, and Xenophobia, who described it as a significant victory for justice and a clear message against racism.

The legal outcome follows Vinícius’s public acknowledgment of the toll of enduring years of racist abuse, expressing how it had eroded his passion for football. Despite this, he remains a standout player in the league, recognized as a candidate for the prestigious Ballon d’Or award.

Ibarra noted that while the convictions represent progress, other cases, including the hanging of an effigy of Vinícius in Madrid, await resolution. He hopes for harsher sentences in such cases, emphasizing the importance of continued efforts in the fight against racism and the defense of human rights within football.