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Four arrested on suspicion of hanging Vinícius effigy off bridge

Vinicius Junior Vinicius Junior - The Canadian Press

MADRID (AP) — Spanish police took action Tuesday after the latest case of abuse against Vinícius Júnior, arresting seven people accused of racially insulting the Real Madrid player.

Spanish soccer officials also acted, fining Valencia 45,000 euros ($48,500) and closing part of the team's stadium for the next five games.

Three people were detained in Valencia for alleged abuse against Vinícius in Sunday's match between Valencia and Madrid. Four were arrested in Madrid for allegedly hanging an effigy of the player off a highway bridge in January.

The arrests came after an outpouring of support for Vinícius after he said he was abused in Valencia. The case prompted widespread reaction from sports figures and government officials in Spain and worldwide.

The section of Mestalla Stadium that will be closed is where the insults against Vinícius came from, behind one of the goals. It's also where the club's more hardcore fans usually are located.

The Spanish federation's competition's committee also made the unusual decision to annul the red card shown to Vinícius after an altercation with Valencia players late in Sunday's match. The committee said video review failed to show the referee the entire altercation, including the part in which Vinícius was grabbed from behind by an opponent.

Vinícius had complained that his red card ended up being a reward to the racists who insulted him.

Spain has been criticized for its lack of action in racism cases in soccer. Brazilian government officials, including President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, had publicly expressed their concerns.

“It’s a crucial moment, a moment to take drastic measures,” Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said Tuesday. “Now that the issue has visibility, the institutions have to take this opportunity to try to fix this problem.”

All seven were arrested on suspicion of committing a hate crime, police said. None of them were publicly identified, and police did not discuss the timing of the arrests.

Vinícius, who is Black, has been subjected to repeated racist taunts since he arrived in Spain five years ago and especially this season after he began celebrating his goals by dancing.

The 22-year-old Brazilian has heavily criticized Spanish soccer for not doing more to stop racism. He posted a message on Twitter on Tuesday saying racism existed in Spanish stadiums even before he was born, referring to images of former Real Madrid and Brazil defender Roberto Carlos being subjected to racist insults back in 1997.

“What has changed until today?” Vinícius asked.

The match against Valencia was temporarily stopped after Vinícius said a fan behind one of the goals called him a monkey and made monkey gestures toward him. Vinícius considered leaving the field but eventually continued playing.

The effigy of Vinícius was hanged by the neck on the morning of a derby match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey. Along with it was a banner with the words “Madrid hates Real.”

The perpetrators used a black figure with Vinícius’ name on it, tied a rope around its neck and hanged it from an overpass while still dark in the Spanish capital.

Police said three of those arrested belonged to one of Atletico's fan groups, and the other was a follower of the group. Some had prior bookings with police for other crimes.

The hate message on the banner is often used by Atletico’s hardcore fans, though at the time they denied being responsible for the display.

The men arrested in Madrid are between the ages of 19 and 24. Authorities said some were previously identified during matches considered at high risk of violence. Police showed images of them arriving in handcuffs and escorted by agents on Tuesday.

Spanish media said police had used security cameras to identify the perpetrators but no action had been taken until now. Valencia and authorities worked together to identify and detain the suspects in the match against Madrid. The club said it banned the suspects from its stadium for life.

The lights at the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro were turned off Monday night in a show of solidarity for Vinícius, who did not practice on Tuesday citing a minor injury.

“It’s an action of solidarity that is moving,” Vinícius said on Twitter. “But more than everything, what I want is to inspire and bring more light to our fight.”

Vinícius gave thanks for the support he has received.

“I know who you are,” he said. “Count on me, because the good ones are the majority and I’m not going to give up. I have a purpose in life, and if I have to keep suffering so that future generations won’t have to go through these types of situations, I’m ready and prepared.”

Real Madrid reported the Valencia case as a hate crime, and club president Florentino Pérez said Tuesday his club “will not tolerate any more racist incidents against its players.” He called for a restructuring of the refereeing in the country.

The Spanish league has filed nine similar criminal complaints of racial abuse against Vinícius in the last two seasons, with most of them being shelved by prosecutors.

The league said Tuesday it will seek to increase its authority to issue sanctions in cases of hate crimes during games.

Supporters have been fined and banned from stadiums for their abuse against Vinícius, but so far only a Mallorca fan may end up going on trial.

The first trial against a fan accused of racial abuse in Spanish professional soccer is expected this year; the case involved Athletic Bilbao forward Iñaki Williams, who was insulted by an Espanyol supporter in 2020.

The Spanish federation, Spanish league and the government's top sports authorities on Tuesday launched an anti-racism campaign. It will include the messages “racists out of football” and “together against racism" on broadcasts, logos and advertising boards and players’ armbands.

“The three institutions want to unanimously show their absolute and unequivocal rejection of any racist behavior,” they said in a statement, adding the aim is “to bring together the strength of everyone: institutions, clubs, athletes and fans with the goal of eradicating racism and its agents from our football.”


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