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Russia making little progress on racism before Confed, World Cups

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MOSCOW (AP) Russia has made progress fighting soccer racism ahead of next year’s World Cup, but players, coaches and fans still risk abuse, a new report says.

There were 89 racist and far-right incidents at Russian games in the 2016-17 season, slightly below the two previous seasons, according to Thursday’s report by European anti-discrimination group FARE and Russia-based SOVA.

In one case, an African player complained of racist abuse by an opponent during a Russian Premier League game. In another case, a hardline fan group segregated part of a stadium for people of “Slavic appearance,” the report alleges. Fans of Russian champion Spartak Moscow flew anti-Semitic banners.

The Russian Football Union’s disciplinary committee, however, has said it didn’t detect a single racist incident in any of the top three divisions this season.

The report comes ahead of the Confederations Cup, starting Saturday, and a year ahead of the World Cup.

“The Russian football authorities and the government authorities have realized … the way both of these competitions will be tarnished by the fear of racism occurring and they’ve taken some quite strong measures,” FARE’s executive director Piara Powar told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “There still remains the danger of some isolated incidents taking place.”

Russian authorities have taken measures to blacklist at least 191 fans from attending sports events, while the RFU ejected an influential fan leader, Alexander Shprygin, from its organization. He was deported twice from France last year following violence around Russia’s match with England at the European Championship, and has been accused of posting far-right symbols on social media, a charge he denied.

Shprygin was dragged out of a bathroom at an RFU conference in September by police and detained, reportedly in connection with an investigation into fan violence.

FARE says Russia has made some progress, and that it didn’t observe monkey chants or openly Nazi flags in any top-flight games this season. However, it warns far-right fans instead fly banners with concealed messages such as runes and number codes used by Nazi and ultranationalist groups.

The RFU punished two clubs in the 2015-16 season for such banners, but didn’t pursue any such cases this season – something which Powar says indicates it may be “turning a blind eye.”

That was despite cases of anti-Semitic banners being flown by Spartak fans, including taunts aimed at rival CSKA Moscow, whose club president and then-coach are both Jewish. Another Spartak banner showed a Russian rock singer caricaturized as an Orthodox Jew, accompanied by personal abuse.

CSKA fans also targeted their own coach, Leonid Slutsky – now at England’s Hull City – with a banner linking his Jewish faith to poor results.

FARE says the number of violent racist incidents fell from five to two last season compared to the year before. There was also no repeat of large-scale violent attacks on foreign fans, such as those which took place between Russian and English fans in Marseille a year ago during the European Championship.

However, there are indications that football-related violence between different ethnic groups in Russia is becoming more entrenched, with fans from Russia’s largely Muslim regions in the North Caucasus forming “fan groups which adopt football hooligans’ rules and initiate fights with Moscow teams.”

In another case last month at a playoff game for a place in the Russian Premier League, one fan group from the Yenisei Krasnoyarsk team issued a statement on social media saying that its sector of the stadium was only available to fans of “Slavic appearance.”

A member of the group, Artyom Kirillov, suggested the group had been misunderstood. “A lot was made up” in local media reports of the incident, he told the AP. “We are loyal to all Russian citizens.”

FIFA said Wednesday that Confederations Cup games will use a three-stage process in the event of fan racism. Referees will first request a public announcement, then suspend the game if the behavior doesn’t stop. If racist incidents still persist, they can stop the game.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Lemar to Arsenal; Aubameyang to China

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According to the Daily Mail, Arsenal are close to signing Monaco and France winger Thomas Lemar, 21, for $42 million.

Lemar shone for the French champions last season and will have already endeared himself to Gunners fans after scoring home and away against Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Champions League group stage last season, as Monaco reached the semifinals.

With Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva and Radamel Falcao getting plenty of the headlines, Lemar’s displays flew under the radar. It seems like Arsene Weneger was watching.

Lemar scored 14 goals and added 17 assists in 55 games for Monaco last season and his intelligent wing-play could help freshen up Arsenal’s attack. Per the report, swapping Champions League action for the Europa League with Arsenal is not a problem for Lemar who broke into the French national team back in November.

Able to play on either wing or centrally, Lemar’s ability to possess the ball as well as find pockets of space behind full backs suggest he’d be a good fit for the Gunners. Would his arrival mean the end for Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud or others?


Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City target Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is being linked with a move to Chinese Super League side Tianjin Quanjian.

Reports in multiple outlets stated that the Borussia Dortmund striker, 28, could be heading to China in the next few days for a fee of $91.9 million with the Gabon international set to earn an incredible $33.6 million a year in wages.

Aubameyang posted a cryptic message on his Instagram account on Tuesday stating he was “ready for new adventures” and it appears he is the latest high-profile name to leave Europe for China.

Ready for new adventures #aubameyang #holidays #pea17

A post shared by Aubameyang (@aubameyang97) on

The Bundesliga golden-boot winner for 2016-17 (he had 31 goals in 32 games) has scored 120 goals in 189 games for Dortmund since joining from Saint-Etienne in 2013. That form led to reports that Liverpool, Man City and Paris Saint-Germain were all prepared to offer big money to sign the lanky forward this summer, but none of those clubs can compete with the huge sums on offer from Tianjin.

Southampton’s days of selling over?

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Southampton are no longer a selling club. At least, not right now.

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Executive Director Les Reed told Sky Sports in the UK that Saints will not be selling Virgil Van Dijk or Cedric Soares this summer, despite constant reports linking the duo with a move away from St Mary’s.

Speaking about the “bold” decision to fire Claude Puel and hire Mauricio Pellegrino over the summer, the main decision maker at Southampton said he hoped hiring Argentine coach Pellegrino would bring “stability” to the club which has so often lost star names since returning to the PL in 2012.

Reed further reinforced Saints’ solid stance that no stars will depart this summer, starting with Van Dijk and Soares.

“None of those players are for sale. I can’t make it any plainer than that and that’s the way we mean to go forward,” Reed said. “We built this squad over some time and think we have a strong squad. We will fine-tune it but, other than that, we are looking forward to a very competitive season next year and we plan to go forward on that basis. There may be players that go on the basis it is the right thing for them and the club at that given time, but we don’t expect that to be wholesale and this is simply doing sound business in the transfer window.”

The main thing for teams like Southampton is that selling players will no longer significantly boost their financial power. After finishing in the top eight of the Premier League in each of the past four seasons, plus having long-term deals with Under Armour, Virgin Media and many other sponsors, they’re set up to try and compete with the PL’s elite, as are each team who have benefited from the huge financial deals the PL have enjoyed over the past few years.

Plus, they are still in negotiations with Chinese investors Lander Sports about majority ownership potentially switching from the Liebherr family to give them more funds to invest in their squad. Saints believe they are ready to kick on to the next stage and aren’t willing to give up any more of their gems.

ProSoccerTalk spoke with Saints chairman Ralph Krueger in May and he was pleased to see several of Saints’ current stars locked down to new contract — Van Dijk, Oriol Romeu, Ryan Bertrand, James Ward-Prowse and Fraser Forster all have new long-term deals — and insisted nobody needed to be sold. Saints have said this in the past but this time it feels a little different, and more serious.

After making princely sums for Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw and Morgan Schneiderlin in the past, plus moving on Nathaniel Clyne, Victor Wanyama and Graziano Pelle who were entering the final year of their contracts for sizable fees, Saints have a reputation as being an easy target for the PL’s top six to buy from.

Yet, with Liverpool forced to apologize after their alleged illegal pursuit of Saints’ star man and captain Van Dijk earlier this month, it appears the South Coast club is getting serious about their best players not being unsettled and remaining at Southampton. Van Dijk’s transfer value is set to be north of $75 million, and it now appears that Southampton will turn down any offer for their classy Dutch center back. That’s a huge shift in club policy, with Saints labeled a selling club for much of their recent history as Alan Shearer, Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are just a few of the star names who moved on from Saints in the past.

Whether or not this new policy can help them break through the glass-ceiling of sixth place (where they finished in 2015-16) and challenge regularly for a European spot remains to be seen, but after years of making big profits on their best players Southampton finally seem to be putting a halt to moving on stars consistently and replacing them with plenty of new gems each season.

That model has worked well for them financially, but last season’s regression — despite reaching the EFL Cup Final and having a Europa League campaign to negotiate they still finished eighth in the PL, but totaled 17 fewer points compared to their previous campaign — suggests they’re at a crucial point in their plans to become a regular contender to push into the top six.

Delivering Europa League action each season is the aim and Pellegrino will have a tough enough task to achieve that in his first season coaching in England.

That said, his task will be made much easier if Van Dijk, Soares and Co. do stick around as Southampton state they will.

Report: Wesley Sneijder close to LAFC move

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Dutch legend Wesley Sneijder is close to signing for Los Angeles FC.

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A report from ESPN states that Sneijder, 33, will sign a two-year deal with LAFC and become a Designated Player for the team who will enter Major League Soccer in 2018.

Per the report, Sneijder has been offered a deal worth $3.5 million a year to join LAFC and he would link up with the squad in January 2018 ahead of their debut season in MLS.

Having a star of Sneijder’s size will certainly attracted plenty more interest in LAFC, plus he’s still a mainstay for the Dutch national team as he has 131 caps with 31 goals for the Oranje and his quality as a deep-lying playmaker is undisputed.

The former UEFA Champions League winner has enjoyed an illustrious career in Europe, winning trophies at Ajax, Real Madrid, Inter and Galatasaray. He won the UCL with Inter in 2010 as he was a pivotal part of Jose Mourinho’s treble-winning team. Sneijder has spent the past five seasons playing in Turkey for giants Galatasaray.

Sneijder would become LAFC’s first DP signing and although the newly-formed club do not yet have a head coach, who wouldn’t want to work with Sneijder in MLS?

With the Banc of California Stadium set to be ready for the start of the 2018 MLS season, excitement is building in LA.

Sneijder’s arrival would help that grow further as one of the premier playmakers of the past decade will get to strut his stuff in MLS. Whether he turns out to be as influential a DP as the likes of David Villa or Kaka remains to be seen, but LAFC are clearly willing to back up their grand plans with grand signings.

Six charged over Hillsborough disaster

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Six individuals, including four former members of the South Yorkshire Police (SYP), have been charged over the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 which left 96 Liverpool fans dead.

Former SYP Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, who was the match commander of the FA Cup semifinal which saw 96 fans crushed to death, will face charges of manslaughter by gross negligence of 95 of the victims. For legal reasons Duckenfield has not been charged over the death of the 96th victim, Tony Bland, who died four years after the tragedy.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) must apply to the High Court to lift an order imposed on Duckenfield after he was prosecuted privately in 1999. That must be removed before he can be charged with 95 cases of manslaughter.

Families of the victims gathered in Warrington, England on Wednesday and were told about the charges by the CPS, who later released the following statement.

Other individuals who will be prosecuted include the former Chief Constable of Merseyside and West Yorkshire police, Sir Norman Bettison, who is facing four charges misconduct in office following the disaster, while former SYP Chief Superintendent Donald Denton and SYP Detective Chief Inspector Alan Foster have both been charged with perverting the course of justice.

Former Sheffield Wednesday chief executive and designated safety officer Graham Mackrell has been charged with breaching the terms of the stadium’s safety certificate and failing to take reasonable care under the the Health and Safety at Work act, plus SYP solicitor, Peter Metcalf, has also been charged.

The families of those who perished at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough over 28 years ago have fought for justice ever since with Liverpool Football Club and the wider soccer community supporting the families in their battle.

From 1991 until 2014 they struggled to cope with the cost of a lengthy legal battle, but that all changed as the UK government have funded the legal costs for all the victims families with the total investigation now spanning four-and-a-half years and costing over $128.2 million.

Last April a verdict of “unlawful killing” was reached for the 96 victims after a new inquest was launched into the deaths following the original verdict from 1991 being quashed by the High Court in 2012 after a report from the Hillsborough Independent Panel.

The new inquest then prompted a new police criminal investigation as Operation Resolve was set up to determine what led up to the deadly crush, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) then investigated what happened after the tragedy and allegations that SYP had perverted the court of justice and tried to cover up their own responsibility.

The defendants, apart from Duckenfield, will appear in Warrington Magistrates Court on Aug. 9.