MADRID (AP) — Four people suspected of hanging an effigy of Real Madrid player Vinícius Júnior off a highway bridge in Madrid in January have been arrested, Spanish police said Tuesday.
The arrests come two days after the latest case of racial abuse against the Brazil forward in a Spanish league game against Valencia.
The effigy was hanged by the neck the morning of a derby between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey. Along with it was a banner with the words “Madrid hates Real.”
The perpetrators used a black figure with Vinícius' name on it, tied a rope around its neck and hanged it from an overpass while still dark in the Spanish capital.
The hate message on the banner is often used by one of Atletico’s ultra fan groups, though at the time it denied being responsible for the display.
Police said the four people arrested are between the ages of 19 and 24. Authorities said some were identified during matches considered at high risk of violence.
Police showed images of them arriving in handcuffs and escorted by agents on Tuesday.
Spanish media said some belonged to Atletico's ultras.
Police had used security cameras to identify the perpetrators but no action had been taken until now.
Vinícius, who is Black, has been subjected to repeated racist taunts in Spain, especially this season after he began celebrating his goals by dancing.
The match against Valencia was temporarily stopped after Vinícius said a fan behind one of the goals called him a monkey and made monkey gestures toward him. Vinícius considered leaving the field but eventually continued playing.
The Brazilian received support from officials and athletes around the world and heavily criticized Spanish soccer for not doing more to stop racism.
Valencia banned for life a fan identified of insulting Vinícius during the game. Real Madrid took the case to prosecutors as a hate crime.
The Spanish league has filed nine criminal complaints of cases of racial abuse against Vinícius in the last two seasons, with most of them being shelved by prosecutors.
The league said Tuesday it will seek to increase its authority to issue sanctions in cases of hate crimes during games. It had been saying it can only detect and denounce incidents to authorities and the country's soccer federation.
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Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press