The arrests come two days after Vinicius Junior was targeted with racist abuse during a Spanish cup match
Police in Spain have arrested four men in connection with a January incident in which an effigy of Real Madrid footballer Vinicius Junior was hung from a bridge in Madrid. The arrests come just days after the Brazilian was repeatedly targeted with racial abuse during a Spanish league game on Sunday.
The four men, aged between 19 and 24, were arrested in Madrid on Tuesday and are "suspected of a hate crime for hanging from a bridge a mannequin with Vinicius' shirt," police said in a statement. Three of the men are suspected to be members of an extreme supporters' group of the Atletico Madrid football team and had previously been identified as posing a high risk of violence, police said.
"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," authorities in the Spanish capital said on Tuesday.
The arrests stem from a January 26 incident in which a crude effigy bearing Vinicius's likeness and bearing the message "Madrid hates Real" was suspended from a bridge close to Real Madrid's training center in advance of a Copa del Rey fixture against city rivals Atletico Madrid.
Vinicius, who is black, has been repeatedly targeted for racist abuse throughout the past two seasons in Spain's La Liga, although most cases have been dropped by prosecutors after official complaints were made to authorities. On Sunday, he threatened to walk off the pitch in retaliation for taunts from Valencia supporters. The club has since banned one supporter for life in response to what Real Madrid called a "hate crime."
The Brazilian footballer, considered to be one of the finest players of his generation, has received support from several figures across the globe in the aftermath of Sunday's incident. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - widely known as Lula - said on Monday that "we cannot allow fascism and racism to dominate football stadiums." Vinicius has called upon Spanish football's leadership to take a stricter line when dealing with issues of racism within the game.
Racial taunting has been a festering issue in European football for some time. In February, Vinicius received racist abuse from Mallorca supporters during a game. The club withdrew the membership of one fan for three years as a result. The Spanish league has also been forced to address similar instances of players receiving racist abuse in recent seasons, including Valencia's Mouctar Diakhaby, Bilbao's Inaki Williams and former Barcelona defender Dani Alves.