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Football star Kerr pleads not guilty to racially aggravated offence

Football star Kerr pleads not guilty to racially aggravated offence

Football star Kerr pleads not guilty to racially aggravated offence

International women's football star Sam Kerr is facing trial in England after pleading not guilty to a racially aggravated offence against a London police officer, prosecutors said.

The Chelsea striker and Australia captain was charged following an incident in January last year, when the Metropolitan Police said they were called to a dispute over a taxi fare.

The 30-year-old Kerr, born to an Anglo-Indian father and Australian mother, is a treasured sporting figure in Australia and one of the most famous players in women's football.

Australia's all-time leading scorer last year graced the cover of the FIFA video game alongside Kylian Mbappe.

She is expected to face trial in February 2025. The charge, relating to "threatening, abusive or insulting" behaviour, can carry a fine or custodial sentence if proven.

The alleged incident occurred before last year's World Cup, which was held in Australia and New Zealand, but was not publicly disclosed until now and appeared to take Australian football bosses by surprise.

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson said he had only found out about the allegation on Tuesday and was yet to speak to his skipper.

"I was informed this morning and obviously I was surprised," he said.

"I can't comment on the offence because it's a legal matter at this point. The only thing I can comment on is my experience and interaction with Sam as a person, and as a footballer.

"And I have only had positive experiences," he said.

Gustavsson said it was too early to say whether the allegation would rule Kerr out of selection for this summer's Paris Olympics.

Kerr has been sidelined since January with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.

"I think it's a bit too early to look at selection at this time and as we all know with Sam's serious injury in January, there's obviously a very big question mark whether she will even be up for selection," said Gustavsson.

- 'Very serious' -

Football Australia CEO James Johnson called the allegation "unsettling" and "very serious".

"We've got our own questions that we'd like to know. We've got to find out what actually happened," he said.

"It's regarding racism, and there's no place for racism in our sport. At the same time. Sam has rights, natural justice rights, procedural rights, that she's going to work her way through and we're respectful of that."

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 -

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

She 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 and 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 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 signed lucrative endorsement deals with the likes of Nike and Mastercard.

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

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