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George Floyd tributes in soccer
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German federation explains review of players who honored George Floyd

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BERLIN — The German soccer federation has defended its decision to assess whether four young Bundesliga players who made gestures in solidarity with George Floyd over the weekend must face sanctions.

The DFB also said on Monday that Jadon Sancho’s booking for removing his jersey to reveal a T-shirt with the demand “Justice for George Floyd” had nothing to do with the message — rather, the yellow card was issued because the 20-year-old England forward broke a rule that says players who celebrate goals by taking off their jerseys or lifting them over their heads must be booked for “unsporting behavior.”

Borussia Dortmund teammate Achraf Hakimi, 21, who displayed the same message after scoring in the same game on Sunday, was not booked because he did not lift his jersey over his head.

The DFB control committee is looking into their gestures and those made by Schalke’s 21-year-old American midfielder Weston McKennie and Borussia Monchengladbach’s 22-year-old French forward Marcus Thuram to see if the four players broke laws that prohibit players from displaying “political, religious or personal slogans.”

McKennie was the first to make a statement when he wore an armband with the handwritten message “Justice for George” around his left arm on Saturday.

Thuram on Sunday took a knee after scoring in Borussia Monchengladbach’s win over Union Berlin.

Sancho and Hakimi followed suit later Sunday.

Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died on Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee for several minutes on his neck. Three other officers were also at the scene. Chauvin has been charged with murder and all four were fired.

DFB president Fritz Keller on Monday showed his respect and understanding for McKennie, Thuram, Sancho and Hakimi’s gestures.

“If people are discriminated against on the basis of their skin color, it is unbearable. If they die because of their skin color, then I am deeply distraught,” Keller said in a DFB statement. “The victims of racism need all of us to show solidarity.”

Keller referred to meetings with victims of discrimination and representatives of organizations that have faced anti-Semetic, anti-Muslim or racist hostility, and said the DFB and German soccer was showing its clear rejection of all forms of racism, discrimination and violence.

Keller also praised both male and female players for taking a stand and showing their solidarity.

“I’m proud of them. I can completely understand the actions from the weekend. Nobody can be indifferent to what happened in the United States,” Keller said.

Former Mainz forward Anthony Ujah was just given a warning by the DFB in 2014 in regard to the ban on political statements when he displayed a T-shirt with Eric Garner’s name and the words “can’t breathe” and “justice,” in reference to Garner’s death after a police officer placed him in what appeared to be a chokehold.

Now playing for Union Berlin, Ujah on Thursday tweeted a picture of his protest from the time, but with Floyd’s name typed above in bold.

Floyd also said “I can’t breathe” before he died.

“If the DFB’s control committee wants to investigate, then I have to ask myself if we all have the same values,” Union sporting director Oliver Ruhnert said. “It’s about a global issue here: The no to racism.”

LASK Linz loses Austrian league lead for team training

LASK docked points
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LINZ, Austria — Austrian league leader LASK Linz has been deducted six points for conducting team training sessions in violation of pandemic restrictions, a decision that could have a big impact on the title race.

The points deduction means LASK slipped from first place to second, three points behind defending champion Salzburg. There are 10 rounds left to play in the Austrian Bundesliga, which is due to resume on June 2.

The Austrian soccer league said Thursday its also fined the club 75,000 euros ($83,000) for breaking “the basic idea of fair play.”

[ MORE: German Bundesliga Week 29 predictions, preview ]

LASK said it will appeal the verdict.

The proceedings against LASK were started on May 14, when videos were shown to the league of the team training together instead of in small groups as permitted.

The club later acknowledged it held four team training sessions. Both LASK coach Valérien Ismaël and vice-president Jürgen Werner apologized during a press conference.

LASK has 14 days to lodge its appeal.

FC Cincinnati’s Stam laughs off unveiling photo gaffe

Jaap Stam
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CINCINNATI (AP) Oops!

Cincinnati’s Major League Soccer team posted the wrong photo in its tweet announcing the hiring of former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam.

And it wasn’t the first time the coach with a shaved head has been confused with someone else who has the same look.

“It’s happened before, but it was quite a big surprise yesterday,” Stam said Friday.

[ MORE: FC Cincinnati’s Gyau on his remarkable career in Germany ]

The team announced his hiring Thursday on a tweet that mistakenly featured the photo of look-alike Tinus van Teanenbroek, an Ajax youth coach. Cincinnati soon retweeted the announcement with the correct photo, saying, “Join us in welcoming our actual new head coach, Jaap Stam.” The team wrote “actual” in italics.

Stam told the team’s website that he’s thankful for the attention the mistake brought to his hiring. He said he’s accustomed to such mistaken identity.

“A lot of people with no hair, in Holland, sometimes they say, `There’s Jaap!'” he said. “It’s a thing that’s quite normal.”

Other MLS teams picked up on the mistake and tweeted photos of other Stam look-alikes, which he enjoyed.

“Somebody posted it to me, and I can appreciate it as well,” Stam said in a Zoom call with the media Friday. “At a certain time, we need to have a little laugh as well. If we play against each other, if we come out on top by winning those particular games, then we can have a laugh, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Stam replaced Ron Jans, who was forced out in February after a league investigation found he’d used a racial slur in the locker room and made other troubling comments. The investigation was prompted by a complaint from the MLS Players Association.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 27 predictions and preview ]

Cincinnati is on its third head coach during its brief stay in the league. As an expansion team last year, it fired Alan Koch after its 11th first-tier match, which left Cincinnati with two wins, seven losses and two draws.

Stam, 47, also has coached in England at Reading (2016-18) as well as in his native Holland at Zwolle (2018-19) and Feyenoord (2019).

A central defender, he won three Premier League titles, one FA Cup and the 1999 Champions League with United.

Former MLS player helping Spain in fight against coronavirus

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MADRID — Toni Dovale has a different routine than most Spanish soccer players during the coronavirus pandemic.

While some have been spending their time trying to stay fit or negotiating salary reductions with their clubs, Dovale is working to guarantee there are enough protective masks, gloves and medicine to help in the fight against the virus in hard-hit Spain.

The former Sporting Kansas City and Celta Vigo player who came through Barcelona’s famed youth academy has put on a white coat and is working in his family’s small pharmacy in the northwestern city of A Coruna while soccer remains on hold because of the virus.

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He had been playing in Thailand before coming to Spain for the holidays and got stuck when the outbreak started.

“I was packing my bags to go back to Asia for the new season, but the situation with the virus started to become tough,” the 30-year-old Dovale said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press this week. “I was not expecting to work now, but the only thing I could do was help. It was the right moment to come into the pharmacy and help my people.”

Spain has struggled with the coronavirus, registering more than 140,000 confirmed cases and nearly 14,000 deaths. The country has been in a tight lockdown since mid-March and the restrictions are expected to remain in place at least until the end of April. The nation’s health system has been overwhelmed and the government has been seeking any help it can get.

“I decided that the best thing I could do was to help my community, to come to the pharmacy and try to help people, to do my best so we can get back to our normal lives as soon as possible and hopefully I can go back to playing soon,” said Dovale, who has a pharmacy degree.

“With everything that is going on in our society, it was the moment for me to take a step forward,” he said. “I know there is a risk, because I’m exposed to the virus, it’s an uncomfortable situation, but I think that in the tough times it’s always the time to take a step forward and show your character.”

Dovale is one of four workers at his family’s pharmacy, and that’s including his mother, who is among the high-risk group for infection because of her age. They have been keeping social distancing among themselves and only three customers can enter the pharmacy at a time.

Dovale is a do-it-all employee, but one of his main responsibilities is to negotiate the purchase of medicine and supplies with laboratories and other providers.

“There is a shortage of many medicines. We don’t have masks, we don’t have alcohol. Gloves are not easy to find,” he said. “I try to call labs and everybody who can provide me material to help these people. It’s really painful when people come to the pharmacy asking for a mask and you cannot get this kind of stuff for them.”

Dovale said pharmacies have been crucial for people with non-coronavirus illnesses.

“We cannot forget that people can still become sick,” he said. “People still have diabetes, still have hypertension and many other problems. It’s very important that we take care of them, because the hospitals are collapsed and crowded.”

Dovale, an offensive midfielder with good playmaking and passing skills, scored four goals and had four assists in his 25 matches with Sporting Kansas City in Major League Soccer in 2014.

He started at Barcelona’s youth academy before joining Celta Vigo, where he played under current Spain coach Luis Enrique. He later also played for Spanish clubs Leganes, Rayo Vallecano and Lugo, where he played under current Barcelona coach Quique Setien.

“Great experiences,” said Dovale, who also had a stint with Bengaluru FC in India and was playing with Thai club Navy FC before the coronavirus pandemic left him stuck in Spain and led to the end of his contract.

Dovale said he feels he has four or five years of good soccer ahead of him, and he wouldn’t mind going back to Asia or the United States.

“The challenge of playing for titles and playing in international competitions is what makes me keep going forward,” he said. “In Spain, it is really difficult because only two teams can fight for titles.”

Dovale is trying to stay fit as well as he can, training in the morning at home and in a parking lot before going to the pharmacy.

He said he hoped the United States would be spared the things he has witnessed in Spain.

“My only advice is that they should take it seriously, because I never imagined that in Spain we would see that much pain. I never imagined that many people would be dying. I never imagined that so many hospitals would be absolutely collapsed. I never expected that we would be missing things like alcohol, masks and gloves,” he said.

“This situation just hit us from the back,” Dovale said. “My people, my community, are going through a lot of pain. I just pray for the people in the U.S. to stay safe. Hopefully they can stop it a little earlier than us, because for our country, for our community, it’s really painful and we will not forget about this situation, for sure.”

More Bundesliga protests: Fans slam German soccer federation

Bundesliga protests
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BERLIN — There were more widespread protests at Bundesliga games over the weekend as fans vented their anger with the German soccer federation.

Bayern Munich ultras also took aim at their own team’s management on Sunday as they criticized chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge for his strong reaction to protests the weekend before and questioned their club’s ongoing sponsorship links to Qatar.

Supporters around the country showed their inventive side as they displayed witty banners addressing a host of issues without resorting to the personal insults against Hoffenheim billionaire backer Dietmar Hopp that led to games being stopped the previous weekend.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The federation had warned that a repeat of the insults or banners with cross hairs would lead to games being suspended and potentially called off.

There was chaos in the league last week when fans targeted Hopp and the federation, which had instructed referees to use FIFA’s three-step procedure for dealing with the abuse – a measure originally developed for combating racism. It almost led to the abandonment of two games after referees went to Step 2.

Union Berlin president Dirk Zingler criticized the federation in an interview with Die Welt newspaper on Friday, saying it had lost touch with the majority of supporters in Germany and that its authority was damaged after years of scandals.

Federation presidents Theo Zwanziger, Wolfgang Niersbach and Reinhard Grindel were all forced to step down amid corruption allegations before former Freiburg president Fritz Keller took over last year.

“If (the federation) believes that it can treat people and organizations like it has for the last 10 or 20 years, then it doesn’t work,” Zingler said.

The federation said Friday that it had gone too far in implementing the three-step procedure and that criticism from fans should be permitted as long as it wasn’t hateful or defamatory.

The supporters needed no second invitation.

Mainz fans said the federation’s priorities were skewed.

“World Cup arranged through bribery, presented as a fairy tale, slavery ignored, racism talked away, and now unashamedly courting an insulted billionaire,” read a banner during Mainz’s game with Fortuna Dusseldorf on Sunday. “Every value is all the same. Whoever has money has the morals!”

Rummenigge was a target for describing the previous weekend’s protests as the “grotesque face of soccer.”

In Dortmund, fans held pictures of Rummenigge, Hopp, federation president Fritz Keller and others with red clown noses behind a banner saying “The grotesque faces of soccer.”

Hertha Berlin fans held banners saying “Bribes, collective punishments, deaths in Qatar. It’s clear who the grotesque face of football is.”

Freiburg fans criticized Keller, who was president of their club before he took over at the federation: “Back to collective punishments. Racism relativized. Deliberately escalated. Fritz Keller – nothing understood.”

They also said the federation was Hopp’s soccer federation.

Schalke fans apologized to prostitutes for linking them to Hopp, and they criticized their own club’s stated stance on discrimination while failing to properly address racist comments made by Schalke chairman Clemens Tonnies at the beginning of the season.

Bayern supporters showed a banner with the federation’s logo crossed out and a list of complaints against it: Collective punishment, unfair ticket prices, video assistance in games, the loosening of the 50-plus-1 rule to protect clubs from investor takeovers, the banning of pyrotechnics at games and more.

The Bayern fans also criticized Rummenigge.

“The very grotesque face of Bayern is shown by those who take blood money from Qatar and Co.,” a banner read.

They could be the last protests for some time. Fears over the spread of the coronavirus are likely to see the next set of games go ahead without spectators.