Spanish police make seven arrests after worldwide outrage at Vinicius Junior racist abuse

Four Atletico 'ultras' detained for alleged hate crime against Real Madrid star, as three Valencia fans also held over insults

Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior after being abused by Valencia fans. Getty
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At around seven o'clock on Tuesday morning, Spanish police made a co-ordinated visit to four homes in the Madrid area. Three members of the Frente Atletico ultras group, a band of Atletico Madrid fans, and another man were detained as part of an investigation into an alleged hate crime.

The crime, in late January, was one designed to draw public attention. An inflatable mannequin, dressed in a replica number 20 Real Madrid jersey, Vinicius Junior’s shirt, had been hung by its neck from a road bridge close to Real Madrid’s training ground.

A banner spread across the bridge’s railings said "Madrid hates Real". Atletico and Real were scheduled to meet a few days later in a Spanish Cup derby, a fixture previously disfigured by sustained racist abuse directed against Vinicius at Atletico’s Metropolitano Stadium.

The arrests, all of men between the ages of 19 and 25, followed 36 hours of worldwide outrage at the latest racist targeting of Vinicius, the 22-year-old Brazilian winger, during a Madrid away match at Valencia on Sunday.

Police later on Tuesday also 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 condition they appear when summoned" by the public prosecutor's office or the courts, a police spokesman said.

In a statement, Valencia confirmed the arrests, reiterating their "strongest condemnation of racism and violence" and saying the club was acting against those involved "by banning them for life" from their stadium.

On Sunday, play was interrupted for 10 minutes in Valencia after Vinicius pointed to an individual in the crowd who he identified as one of many who had made offensive chants at him and called him "monkey".

Madrid’s manager Carlo Ancelotti told the referee he should have ordered all the players from the pitch. “He was insulted from the first minute – an entire stadium have been shouting racist abuse at a player,” said Ancelotti.

The scenes at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium were condemned by various stakeholders within Spanish and global football, and by Brazil’s president Lula da Silva and Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish prime minister, the latter concerned at a tarnished image of the national sport and the country.

“The league that once belonged to Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Cristiano and Messi now belongs to racists,” Vinicius had posted on social media. “A beautiful country that took me in and I love now exports to the world a picture of a racist nation.”

Vinicius specifically accused La Liga, who govern the top divisions of Spanish football, of failing to tackle racism in and around stadiums, and in a badly judged, aggressive tone, its president Javier Tebas answered by telling Vinicius its authority to prosecute offenders is limited.

In the past two seasons, La Liga had filed nine complaints to Spanish law enforcement in connection with episodes in which Vinicius has been abused in or around stadiums. Only two so far have resulted in convictions.

Tuesday’s detentions at the very least signal that live and active investigations are taking place.

If the timing of the morning raids and arrests, a day after Spanish football had been widely criticised, appeared expedient, police explained a long and thorough investigation had led them to the four suspects.

Fingerprints taken from the mannequin were of limited value and the search for where the object had been purchased extended to 58 online retailers and a number of shops in Madrid, while mobile phone tracking information had been painstakingly examined.

La Liga simultaneously announced it was seeking changes in legislation that will give it greater powers to impose sanctions, including closing parts or all of stadiums and levying fines.

“The aim is to be more agile and effective against violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sport. La Liga has spent years leading the detection and filing of legal complaints about these problems in football stadiums, but feels powerless at seeing how the complaints are followed up,” La Liga said in a statement.

The Spanish Federation, preparing a joint bid with Morocco and Portugal – and including Ukraine in the proposal – to stage the 2030 World Cup, acknowledged, through its president, Luis Rubiales, that “everyone can do more, including the Federation”.

Rubiales added: “The objective is that as soon as possible Vinicius, and other players who have suffered, can say publicly that it is no longer a problem.”

Ancelotti meanwhile qualified his statement after the final whistle at Valencia – where Vinicius was shown a red card in stoppage time for his part in scuffling between opposing players – about “an entire stadium” abusing the winger.

“I apologise,” said the Italian. “It wasn’t 46,000 people, but it wasn’t just one or two either. There is racism in Spain and things have to change.”

Responding to a Vinicius post saying “I am strong and will take this all the way against the racists even if it is a long way from here”, Ancelotti insisted the player was not pressing to leave Madrid, for whom he has been a consistent match-winner and scored the only goal in last season’s Champions League final.

“He loves football and he has a great love for Real Madrid,” said the coach. “He wants his career to be here.”

Updated: May 24, 2023, 4:36 AM