Dummy of Vinícius Júnior hanged off bridge ahead of derby

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Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior controls the ball during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Athletic Club Bilbao and Real Madrid at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao, Spain, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

MADRID – A dummy of Real Madrid forward Vinícius Júnior was hanged from a highway bridge early Thursday, hours before the team's match against Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey.

The perpetrators used a black figure with Vinícius Júnior’s name on it, tied a rope around its neck and hanged it from an overpass in Madrid along with a banner with the words “Madrid hates Real.”

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The banner and the figure apparently were attached to the bridge while still dark early Thursday morning.

Vinícius, who is Black, has been subjected to racist taunts more than once in Spain. The Brazil forward has complained on social media about being targeted by racists since he came to play in Europe.

The message on the banner is often used by one of Atletico Madrid’s ultra fans groups, though it denied being responsible for the display.

“These are repugnant and inadmissible acts that shame society,” Atletico said in a statement.

“Our condemnation of any act that attacks the dignity of persons or institutions is categorical and unreserved,” the club said. “The rivalry between the two clubs is the greatest, but so is respect. No individual, whatever their intentions or colors, can tarnish the coexistence between different supporters. It is everyone’s responsibility to avoid this.”

Real Madrid thanked others for the messages of support it received after the “lamentable and repugnant act of racism, xenophobia and hatred against our player Vinícius.”

“Attacks such as those suffered by our player, or those suffered by any sportsperson, have no place in a society such as ours,” Real Madrid said.

The Spanish league said it “strongly condemns acts of hatred and intimidation” made against Vinícius. It said it would ask authorities to investigate and seek convictions with “the most severe sentences” for those responsible.

“Intolerance and violence have no place in our sport,” the league said in a statement.

The Spanish soccer federation condemned the “intolerable act” and offered a message of support to Vinícius following the “direct threat by radical groups.”

“These types of manifestations, charged with hatred, only encourage violence and have no place in our sport. Soccer must be lived with passion, but always respecting the players, the opponent and the fans,” the federation said. “This type of vandalism is unacceptable.”

Atletico had already condemned its fans when a large group of them chanted “Vinícius, you are a monkey” before Madrid’s 2-1 win in the city derby last year at the Metropolitano Stadium. Spanish state prosecutors closed a probe into that case citing a lack of sufficient evidence to identify potential perpetrators of the hate crime.

The Spanish league this month filed criminal complaints against Valladolid fans who aimed racist insults against Vinícius, and he was also targeted by a fan who racially insulted him after a “clásico” against Barcelona in 2021.

The Copa del Rey derby had been engulfed in controversy following a report that Madrid would prohibit Atletico fans from wearing team jerseys at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, something that Madrid later denied.

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