Spanish police arrested seven people Tuesday over two incidents of racial abuse targeting Real Madrid’s Brazilian star Vinicius Junior, including one this weekend that sparked an international outcry.
Spain’s football league, La Liga, has been engulfed in a racism scandal after the 22-year-old forward was subjected to racist taunts during Sunday’s 1-0 defeat at Valencia and later sent off.
The player has been taunted by opposition fans since joining Real in 2018 but the latest incident has kicked up a storm over whether Spain is doing enough to stamp out racism in football.
Police on Tuesday arrested three youths in Valencia for “insults and gestures with racist overtones” towards the player that amounted to “an alleged hate crime” during Sunday’s match.
After their statements were taken, they were later “released on the condition that they appear when summoned” by the public prosecutor’s office or the courts, a police spokesperson told AFP.
Sunday’s game was held up for several minutes and with the referee saying that shouts of “monkey” had been directed at Vinicius.
In a statement, Valencia confirmed the arrests, reiterating its “strongest condemnation of racism and violence” and saying the club was acting against those involved “by banning them for life” from their stadium.
In Madrid, police arrested another four men suspected of dangling an effigy wearing a Real Madrid shirt with Vinicius’ number on it from a bridge earlier this year.
The dark-skinned inflatable dummy was hanged by the neck from a bridge near Real Madrid’s training ground several hours before a derby clash with Atletico Madrid on January 26.
Above it was a 16-meter banner reading ‘Madrid hates Real’, police said.
Investigators said three of the suspects were “active members of a group of radical fans” who had previously been identified as “high risk” by agents working to prevent football violence.
– ‘Take drastic measures’ –
“Spain is fighting this behavior, we condemn it and we are working to eradicate it,” government spokeswoman Isabel Rodriguez said Tuesday just hours after Brazil protested to the Spanish ambassador.
The Brazilian government also said it would complain to Madrid and La Liga in a statement saying it “deeply regrets that no effective measures have yet been taken to prevent the recurrence of these racist acts”.
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said Sunday’s incident showed FIFA’s racism protocol in football was “obsolete”.
Referee Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea activated the racism protocol after Vinicius squared off with fans, singling out one supporter whom he accused of abuse.
But Ancelotti said the protocol should have been “applied when the team bus reached the stadium, because the insults started there”.
In mobile footage of the crowds awaiting the arrival of Real Madrid’s bus broadcast on Tuesday by LaSexta television, multiple voices can be heard singing abusive chants and making offensive sounds.
It was, said Ancelotti, “a moment to take drastic measures” to tackle the issue.
Meanwhile, La Liga said it would request more sanctioning power to act against fans for violent, racist or xenophobic behavior, saying it felt “powerless” when its incident reports failed to have an impact.
“Giving La Liga greater sanctioning capacity would be an effective tool to boost the fight against racism in sport,” it said in a statement, indicating it wanted the power to impose stadium closures, to ban fans for instigating offenses or to impose fines.
– ‘Bring more light’ –
Later on in Sunday’s match, Vinicius was sent off for hitting Valencia’s Hugo Duro after the referee watched VAR footage of a brawl between the two teams.
But Spain’s refereeing committee on Tuesday sidelined official Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva — who was in charge of VAR for the match — for his part in awarding Vinicius a red card.
During the match, the VAR footage he showed the referee did not include the part where Duro grabbed the Brazilian around the neck before the incident — also a red card offense.
Vinicius was dismissed and will likely miss the next two or three matches, meaning he may not play again for Madrid this season.
Media reports said Iglesias Villanueva had been sacked but the football federation did not confirm that to AFP.
There is growing anger in Brazil over the incident, with the lights on the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro turned off for an hour in solidarity with the player.
“Black and imposing,” Vinicius tweeted of the darkened statue, saying he was moved and thanking followers for their support.
“But I want, above all, to inspire and bring more light to our fight,” he added.