Seven people were arrested on Tuesday in relation to incidents of racist abuse directed at Real Madrid star Vinícius Jr. this season.
Spanish police said four young men had been detained for allegedly hanging an effigy of Vinícius off a bridge in Madrid in January, while three others were arrested on suspicion of being involved in the racist insults aimed at the Brazilian during Sunday’s match against Valencia.
Both incidents are being treated as hate crimes.
The incident with the effigy occurred in the Spanish capital near Real’s training center ahead of the team’s Copa del Rey quarterfinal against Atlético Madrid on January 26.
In videos which were widely viewed on social media, the effigy – which was dressed in a Real Madrid shirt with Vinícius’ name and No. 20 on the back – was shown hanging along with a banner which read: “Madrid hates Real.”
“Three of those arrested are active members of a radical fan group of a football club from Madrid,” the police statement read.
“The investigation carried out by police through evidence gathered, witnesses and open-source digital research, among other things, led to the identification of the four men suspected of the crime.”
The police statement added that the three fans belonging to an ultra group had previously been identified at matches classified as “high risk” in the police’s attempts to clamp down on violence in sport.
The three suspects in the incident at Valencia’s Mestalla stadium are aged 18 to 21 and were arrested in three different locations, the police press office told CNN.
Vinícius has been subjected to racist abuse from the stands on numerous occasions during La Liga matches over the past two seasons, most recently against Valencia on Sunday.
The referee’s official report from the game described the incident, noting a fan had shouted “monkey, monkey” at Vinícius during the second half. Video footage of the match from DAZN España also shows that the Real Madrid star was subjected to various other racist insults throughout the game.
Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva came to Vinícius’ defense on Monday, saying that it’s “not possible that almost in the middle of the 21st century, we have racial prejudice gaining strength in several football stadiums in Europe.
“I think it is important that FIFA, the Spanish league, and leagues in other countries take real action because we cannot allow fascism and racism to dominate football stadiums,” he added.
On Monday, the lights at Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue were turned off to show solidarity with Vinícius.
In a statement released on Tuesday, LaLiga said it is formally calling to be given sanctioning powers to better fight racism in Spanish football.
At present, LaLiga says it cannot punish clubs or fans for incidents of racist abuse and can only pass on any reports of abuse to Spanish football federation (RFEF) committees or regional prosecutors, who deal with them as legal cases before sporting punishments are handed out.
In one particular incident involving the Brazilian, LaLiga told CNN in March that following an investigation into racist chants of “You are a monkey, Vinícius, you are a monkey” – aimed at Vinícius before and during Real’s match against Atleti on September 18, 2022 – the local Madrid prosecutor didn’t pursue the case because the yells were within the context of other “unpleasant and disrespectful” chants during a “football match of maximum rivalry.”
As a result of this and amid increasing criticism at the lack of action taken over racist incidents, LaLiga says it “will now proactively seek an amendment to the law that enables it to enact disciplinary action moving forward.”
Spain has racism problem, football chief says
The head of the RFEF, Luis Rubiales, admitted on Monday that there is a racism problem in the country.
“We have a problem,” Rubiales told a media conference. “The first thing is to recognize that we have a problem in our country of behavior, education, racism.
“While there is just one fan, one undesirable, a group of undesirables, who insults due to sexuality, skin color or creed, then we have a serious problem. A serious problem that also stains a whole team, a whole fan base, a whole club, a whole country – and we are a welcoming country.
“Vinícius Junior and any footballer, woman or man, who suffers an insult, any violent act, has my support and that of the entire RFEF because we are here to help and ask them to help us improve,” he added.
Rubiales also criticized LaLiga president Javier Tebas, who got involved in a back-and-forth with Vinícius on Twitter after Sunday’s match.
Tebas tweeted Vinícius Jr. telling him to “inform” himself on LaLiga’s jurisdictions and role in racism cases and chiding him for twice not meeting with him to discuss the matter.
When Vinícius replied: “I am not your friend to talk with about racism. I want actions and punishments. Hashtags don’t move me,” Tebas again took to Twitter in an attempt to defend himself and LaLiga’s actions in the fight against racism.
Rubiales urged Vinícius Jr to ignore Tebas’ “irresponsible behavior.”
“I want to also ask him [Vini] to please ignore the irresponsible behavior of the President of LaLiga, who on social media engaged with a footballer who, hours earlier had received several racist insults of tremendous severity,” Rubiales said.
“Directors are not here to get involved in engagements on social media, we’re here to try and solve problems – and this footballer was attacked very seriously.
“It was not the time [to jump on social media],” he added.
However, a day after Vinícius tweeted “your hashtags don’t move me” to Tebas, the RFEF launched a new campaign called ‘Racists, get out of football’ that essentially amounts to a new hashtag and a message displayed on banners before matches.
In an Instagram post on Monday, Vinícius outlined the “inhumane” treatment he has been receiving throughout this season, saying that “every game away from home is an unpleasant surprise.”
His statement was posted alongside a video compilation of some of the incidents of racist abuse he has suffered.
“And there were many this season,” he said. “Death wishes, hanged effigy, many offensive chants … all registered, but the argument always comes down to ‘isolated cases,’ ‘a fan.’ No, they are not isolated cases.
“They are regular incidents spread across several cities in Spain and even in a television program. The proof is there in the video. I now ask: How many of these racists had their names and photos displayed on websites? I’ll answer to make it easy: zero. None to tell an sorry story or make those false public apologies.”
The incident on Spanish TV which Vinícius Jr. referred to involved Pedro Bravo – a leading agent and president of the Association of Spanish Agents – who in September 2022 compared the Madrid star’s dancing celebrations after scoring to the behavior of a monkey, arguing the forward was not respecting his opponents and “should stop playing the monkey.”
“When you score against a rival, if you want to dance samba, you go to the sambadrome in Brazil, here what you have to do is to respect your colleagues and stop playing the monkey,” he said.
Bravo was accused of using racist language by many on social media and later apologized on Twitter, explaining he had misused a metaphor.
Vinícius’ Monday post continued: “What’s missing to criminalize these people? And hand sporting punishments to clubs? Why don’t sponsors charge La Liga? Don’t televisions bother to broadcast this barbarity every weekend? The problem is very serious and press releases no longer work.
“Blaming me to justify criminal acts doesn’t either. It’s not football, it’s inhumane.”