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Football star Kerr charged with 'racially aggravated offence'

Football star Kerr charged with 'racially aggravated offence'

Football star Kerr charged with 'racially aggravated offence'

Chelsea and Australia women's football superstar Sam Kerr has been charged with a "racially aggravated offence" after a dispute involving a London police officer, the Metropolitan Police said Tuesday.

The 30-year-old striker, one of the highest profile and best-paid players in the women's game, was charged following the incident in January 2023, police said in a statement.

The alleged dispute was sparked when a police officer responded to a "complaint involving a taxi fare", police added.

The Crown Prosecution Service told AFP that Kerr had pleaded not guilty to a charge of racial aggravated harassment.

She was charged under laws governing "threatening, abusive or insulting" behaviour, which can carry a fine or custodial sentence.

She will face trial in February next year, UK media reported.

The alleged incident occurred before last year's FIFA World Cup which took place in Australia and New Zealand, but was not disclosed until now.

Kerr -- born to an Anglo-Indian father and Australian mother -- is one of Australia and football's most treasured figures.

Last year she graced the cover of the FIFA video game alongside French superstar Kylian Mbappe.

She has been sidelined since January this year with a serious knee injury, a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.

The charges and Kerr's injury cast a shadow over her hopes of playing for Australia at the Paris Olympics which start in July.

Governing body Football Australia said it was "aware of the legal proceedings involving Sam Kerr in the United Kingdom".

"As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are unable to provide further comment at this time," it said in a statement.

It was not clear when Football Australia became aware of the incident or the charges against Kerr.

"Our focus remains on supporting all our players, both on and off the field. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide support as appropriate."

Former Australia men's team captain Craig Foster said the news was unexpected and distressing.

"Racism is a very serious issue (not only) in sport. Let's acknowledge the rights of the other person involved, and hope that February absolves Sam," he posted on X, formerly Twitter.

- Pace, agility -

The Matildas captain has been credited with helping drive the booming popularity of the women's game -- both in Australia and globally.

Kerr played Australian Rules football as a youngster and was convinced she would one day represent her beloved West Coast Eagles, like her elder brother.

She switched to football aged 12.

Kerr made her full international debut against Italy in 2009, a precocious talent aged just 15 at the time.

Known for her pace, agility and heading ability -- as well as her trademark backflip goal celebrations -- Kerr left for the United States in 2013.

She went first to Western New York Flash, then Sky Blue FC in New Jersey and finally Chicago Red Stars.

After moving to English heavyweights Chelsea in 2020, Kerr rose to a new level.

The 2023 Ballon d'Or runner-up scored the only goal in Chelsea's 1-0 win over Manchester United in last season's FA Cup final.

As her star has continued to rise over the years, Kerr has inked lucrative endorsement deals with the likes of Nike and Mastercard.

She has scored 99 goals in 128 games an all competitions for Chelsea.

In 2019, Kerr became the first Australian, man or woman, to score a hat-trick at a World Cup.