Spanish police arrested seven people Tuesday, May 23, over the racial abuse of Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior, as the Brazilian star was spared a ban for his red card against Valencia. The forward was targeted by Valencia fans on Sunday, sparking an international outcry, and the Spanish club had one stand of their stadium shut for five games by the Spanish football authorities late Tuesday.
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 Madrid’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 condition they appear when summoned” by the public prosecutor’s office or the courts, a police spokesman told AFP.
Sunday’s game was held up for several minutes 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 hung 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.
Red card declared void
After the abuse 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 offence.
“(The red card) was determined by the omission of the VAR room of the entire play, without showing the aggression carried out seconds before,” said the Competition Committee in a statement. “Therefore the expulsion should be declared null and void.”
The Spanish football federation also announced the decision to shut the Mario Kempes stand at Mestalla – where Vinicius singled out a fan who had been abusing him – for five matches and fined the club 45,000 euros ($48,000).
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Valencia protested the decision in a statement early Wednesday morning. “We consider that penalizing and depriving all the fans who were not involved in these regrettable incidents of being able to watch their team is a totally disproportionate, unjust and unprecedented measure against which we will fight,” said Los Che.
‘Fighting this behavior’
“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.
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said Sunday’s incident showed FIFA’s racism protocol in football was “obsolete”. 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”. “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.
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.