MADRID (AP) — Seven people accused of racially abusing Real Madrid player Vinícius Júnior have been arrested in Spain, police said Tuesday.
Three were detained in Valencia for alleged abuse against Vinícius in a Spanish league match on Sunday. Four were arrested in Madrid for allegedly hanging an effigy of the player off a highway bridge in January.
The arrests come 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 nation 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.
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 Brazilian has heavily criticized Spanish soccer for not doing more to stop racism.
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 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. Police did not say if the timing of the arrests had to do with the widespread attention being received by the latest abuse against Vinícius on Sunday.
The lights at the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro were turned off Monday night in a show of solidarity for Vinícius.
“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 thanked all the support he has received in the last months in Brazil and abroad.
“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.”
Valencia banned for life a fan identified of insulting Vinícius during the game. Real Madrid took the case to prosecutors as a hate crime.
The Spanish league has filed nine criminal complaints of cases 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. It had been saying it can only detect and denounce incidents to authorities and the country's soccer federation.
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 for allegedly racially insulting the Brazilian during a game.
The first trial against a fan accused of racial abuse in Spanish professional soccer is expected to happen at some point this year; the case involved Athletic Bilbao forward Iñaki Williams, who was insulted by an Espanyol supporter in a match in 2020.
By TALES AZZONI AP Sports Writer
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