Spanish police detain four over Vinicius Jr effigy hung from bridge

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Spanish police detained four men on Tuesday in connection with an incident in which an effigy representing Brazilian soccer star Vinicius Jr was hung from a bridge in January, a day after a senior official said Spanish football had a racism problem.

A hate crime investigation was opened after the effigy-wearing winger Vinicius Jr’s No. 20 shirt was hung from a bridge in front of the training ground of Real Madrid, the player’s team, along with a 16-metre red and white banner, the colours of rival team Atletico Madrid, that read “Madrid hates Real”.

The arrests come a day after football federation chief Luis Rubiales said Spanish soccer has a racism problem, following a race-crime complaint lodged by Real Madrid.

After slurs were aimed at the Real Madrid player during a Spanish league match on Sunday, Vinicius Jr, in a social media post, called the racist abuse “inhuman” and asked sponsors and broadcasters to hold LaLiga accountable.

The four men could be responsible for an alleged hate crime and three of them are active members of “a radical group of fans of a Madrid club”, police said. Those three members were previously identified during matches and qualified as “high risk” to help prevent violence in sport, they said.

LaLiga, the country’s top football league, is under pressure to do more to combat racism after the Brazilian president, FIFA, and sporting stars such as France forward Kylian Mbappe, Rio Ferdinand and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton voiced support for Vinicius.

However, the organization said in a statement on Tuesday that “according to Spanish law, LaLiga can only detect and denounce, but not sanction the events that occur”, and urged Spanish authorities to give it “sanctioning powers to be able to fight racism more effectively.”

“LaLiga feels tremendous frustration at the lack of sanctions and convictions by sports disciplinary bodies, public administrations and jurisdictional bodies to which complaints are made,” reads LaLiga’s statement, who says it will file a formal request to the sports law to be modified.

The sanctions in Spanish soccer are handled by the Competition Committee of the Spanish FA (RFEF).

The effigy incident took place before Real hosted Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals in late January.