Kick It Out alarmed by rising discrimination in English football

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English football experienced a 59 percent increase in incidents of racist, homophobic and other discriminatory abuse in the first half of the 2017-18 season, British anti-discriminatory body Kick It Out said on Wednesday.

The organisation said it had received 300 reports relating to 282 incidents of abuse by the end of 2017, up from 177 incidents in the same period last season.

There was a 75 percent increase in incidents in professional football, a 14 percent rise in the amateur game and a 63 percent increase on social media.

About 49 percent of the 131 incidents reported in professional football took place in the Premier League.

Racism was the most common form of discrimination across English football, accounting for 54 percent of incidents, with homophobia, biphobia and transphobia making up 22 percent.

Kick It Out chair Herman Ouseley acknowledged that the football authorities have improved procedures to identify discrimination but said the statistics should “act as a wake-up call to everyone in the sport”.

“Ultimately, tackling discrimination must be a collective effort,” he said in a statement.

“The leaders across all sections of society and football, as well as the broader public and football supporters themselves, need to take action, report discrimination and help us eradicate hatred.”

Ouseley said the rise in discrimination in football came against a “backdrop of rising hatred in our society”.

Barcelona try to leave Gerard Pique controversy behind with Copa del Rey semifinal

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After hearing nonstop talk about Gerard Pique and his provocative celebration against Espanyol, Barcelona tries to get its focus back on the Copa del Rey semifinal.

Barcelona play at Valencia on Thursday to defend a 1-0 win from the first leg and try to reach its fifth straight Copa final.

Pique sparked widespread controversy in a Spanish league match against the city rival last weekend, celebrating his late equalizer by telling the Espanyol crowd to be quiet. He later also criticized the rival for losing its links to the city and for having a foreign owner, prompting a wave of criticism.

Pique risks being suspended for his actions, and Barcelona has had to come out and publicly defend the player in the days leading up to the decisive match against Valencia.

“Several other players have celebrated the same way. It’s normal after an important goal scored late in the game,” Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu told Spanish media, referring to Pique’s gesture of putting a finger in front of his mouth. “It’s not the first time a player has silenced a stadium.”

A draw at Mestalla Stadium on Thursday will be enough to put Barcelona back in the final and keep it on track to win its fourth consecutive Copa title.

It’s not even clear if Pique will play because of an injury sustained after his goal celebration in the 1-1 draw against Espanyol. The veteran defender couldn’t avoid a hard tackle by Espanyol forward Gerard Moreno, who was upset with Pique’s celebration. Pique received a knock to his right knee and was listed as doubtful to make the trip to Valencia.

Pique had made comments criticizing Espanyol before Sunday’s league match, and the crowd showed their disapproval by jeering him nearly every time he touched the ball at RCDE Stadium. Pique said some of the fans insulted his family throughout the match.

It is not the first time the outspoken Pique has been surrounded by controversy. He is often jeered by fans when Barcelona plays away games because of his pro-Catalonia stance. Last year, after encouraging Catalans to vote in a disputed independence referendum, he was loudly booed by fans in Madrid after joining the Spanish national team at a training camp.

Barcelona has faced a hostile environment at Mestalla in the past. In a league match last season, Valencia fans threw objects at Barcelona’s players while they celebrated a goal near the stands.

Valencia and Barcelona met in the Copa semifinals two years ago, with the Catalan club winning 7-0 at Camp Nou Stadium in the first leg. It then held on to a 1-1 draw at Mestalla with its second-stringers.

Since that 7-0 demoralizing defeat, Valencia has lost only three of its six matches against Barcelona, winning 2-1 at Camp Nou in a league game in 2016 and drawing 1-1 at Mestalla earlier this season.

Third in the league, 18 points behind leader Barcelona, Valencia is trying to make it to the Copa final for the first time since 2007-08, when it won its seventh title after eliminating Barcelona in the semifinals.

Alexis Sanchez sentenced to 16 months in prison for tax fraud

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Alexis Sanchez, who just moved to Manchester United from Arsenal, has been sentenced to 16 months in prison for committing tax fraud during the time he played for Barcelona. The Chilean, however, will not be serving any jail time.

Sanchez, who spent three years playing for the Catalan side from 2011 to 2013, has accepted the sentence and agreed to pay the money he owes with interest. The 29-year old was accused of defrauding the Spanish Treasury of €1million (£890,000) by using a shell company in Malta to avoid being taxed on the image rights he was earning.

The ex-Arsenal star is only the latest to be named in cases of defraud by the Spanish prosecutors. A number of high-profile footballers were charged of tax-fraud last year including greats Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Carvalho and Jose Mourinho. Messi and his father were awarded jail-time for 21 months and 15 months respectively after being found guilty of tax-fraud of £3.5 million from 2007 to 2009.

Sanchez to not go to jail, here’s why 

Sanchez can heave a sigh of relief as he will not have to go to prison, despite the term. According to Spanish law, jail terms of under two years can be served under probation in cases where there are no prior offenses.

Virgil van Dijk prepared for frosty reception at Southampton

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Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk is prepared for a frosty reception on his return to Southampton but has said he is only focussed on a win at his former club.

Liverpool made Dutchman Van Dijk the world’s most expensive defender by splashing out a world record 75 million pounds ($104.66 million) in the January transfer window after failing to agree terms during acrimonious dealings in the close season.

Van Dijk, who has made a mixed start to life at Anfield, returns to the south coast for the first time since his move and is fully aware of what the fans could have in store for him.

“Maybe they can boo the whole game. You can’t do anything about it,” Van Dijk said.

“Obviously it’ll be nice to see the players and the friends I have there but, for me, it is going to be about one thing only and that is to win the game.”

Van Dijk scored the winning goal on his Liverpool debut as they beat city rivals Everton 2-1 in their FA Cup third round last month but was injured for the 4-3 home win that ended leaders Manchester City’s unbeaten run in the league.

Liverpool have won once with Van Dijk in the team, losing 3-2 to West Bromwich Albion and drawing 2-2 with Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, with the Dutchman conceding an injury-time penalty that allowed striker Harry Kane to equalise.

“With the football we play, the pressing, the different options with players, it is totally different here,” Van Dijk added. “So you need time to get used to everything but I am working on it every day together with the team. The most important thing is what happens at Melwood and what happens here with the people who care about the team… other people around, fans of other clubs, pundits, they can have their opinions, but it doesn’t really bother me. I am talking with the manager and everyone who can help me out. I want to improve and get the maximum out of myself and that is what I am going to do.”

Liverpool are third in the table with 51 points while Southampton are 15th with 26 points.