MADRID: 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 he joined Real in 2018 but the latest incident has kicked up a storm over whether Spain is doing enough to stamp out racism in football.
Early on Tuesday, police confirmed arresting 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.
The game was held up for several minutes and the referee wrote in his post-match report that shouts of “monkey” had been directed at Vinicius.
Police said the investigation remained open to identify further suspects.
In a statement, Valencia confirmed three fans had been arrested, reiterating its “strongest condemnation against racism and violence” and saying the club was acting against those involved “by banning them for life from our stadium”.
Also Tuesday, Madrid police arrested another four men suspected of hanging an effigy wearing a Real Madrid shirt with Vinicius’ number on it from a bridge in January.
The dummy was hung by the neck from a highway bridge near Real Madrid’s training ground on January 26 ahead of their match against Atletico Madrid.
Above it was a banner in Atletico’s red and white reading: “Madrid hates Real”.
Government spokeswoman Isabel Rodriquez welcomed the arrests, saying they showed Spanish authorities had “zero tolerance” for racism in sports.
“We must clearly say we are anti-racists, Spain fights these behaviours, condemns them and does everything to eliminate them,” she added.
The Brazilian government has formally protested to the Spanish ambassador and will lodge an official complaint with authorities in Madrid.
Brazil “deeply regrets that no effective measures have yet been taken to prevent the recurrence of these racist acts,” it said in a statement.
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”.
“It’s a moment to take drastic measures. Institutions have chances, above all now, to take radical measures on this important subject,” he added.
Vinicius was sent off later in Sunday’s game for hitting Valencia’s Hugo Duro after the referee watched VAR footage of a brawl between the two teams.
Spain’s refereeing committee on Tuesday sidelined official Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva for his upcoming matches after his involvement in awarding Vinicius a red card against Valencia.
During the match, Iglesias Villanueva was in charge of VAR but the video he showed the referee did not include footage of Duro grabbing the Brazilian around the neck before the incident — which would also have been a red card offence.
Vinicius Junior was dismissed and will likely miss the next two or three matches, meaning he may not play again for Madrid this season.
Spanish media said Iglesias Villanueva had been sacked but the Spanish football federation would not confirm that when questioned by 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 one hour in solidarity with the player.
“Black and imposing,” Vinicius Junior 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.