Soccer-Vinicius Jr expects punishment against hate crimes, spokesperson says

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Copa del Rey - Round of 16 - Villarreal v Real Madrid - Estadio de la Ceramica, Villarreal, Spain - January 19, 2023 Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior during the warm up before the match REUTERS/Pablo Morano

MADRID (Reuters) - Real Madrid's Brazil forward Vinicius Jr expects punishment to be handed out by Spanish authorities against hate crimes after a mannequin wearing his No. 20 shirt was hung from a bridge in front of the club's training centre ahead of the Madrid derby.

Real host Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals on Thursday and the mannequin was hung next to a banner in Atleti's red and white colours, which read "Madrid hates Real", during the early hours of Thursday, police said.

"Vinicius Jr is aware of the situation but is fully concentrated on tonight's match," a spokesperson for 22-year-old Vinicius told Reuters.

"He will discuss the issue tomorrow with his club and legal staff but his position is still the same as before - he expects punishment from the authorities, not official statements."

Police told Reuters no charges had been filed but they had opened an investigation for what could be a hate crime after they removed the banner and mannequin early on Thursday.

Real, Atletico, LaLiga and the Spanish FA all released official statements condemning the act.

Vinicius has been subjected to racial abuse by fans on at least three occasions - at Camp Nou against Barcelona in November 2021, at Atletico in September 2022 and at Valladolid in late December 2022.

Prosecutors in Madrid decided not press charges over racist chanting aimed at Vinicius in September after finding that they "lasted a few seconds" and did not constitute a crime.

In December, Vinicius accused LaLiga of continuing to do nothing about racist fans at matches, after videos on social media showed fans shouting abuse and throwing objects at him during a match the previous day at Valladolid.

Pele, Neymar and other leading Brazilian figures leapt to the defence of Vinicius in September 2022 after a panelist on a Spanish soccer show criticised the forward.

He said Vinicius was not respecting opponents with his celebrations, comparing his behaviour to that of a monkey -- which immediately sparked a backlash on social media.

Vinicius Jr issued a two-minute video statement at the time in response to what he called a "xenophobic and racist" insult, saying he "won't stop dancing" and that "the happiness of a black Brazilian being successful in Europe bothers" many people.

(Reporting by Fernando Kallas; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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