Australia captain Sam Kerr in action against Canada in September 2022 | IOIO IMAGES

Women’s football has been rocked by the news that one of the world’s best players has been charged over an incident in which she allegedly racially abused a police officer.

Chelsea and Australia striker Sam Kerr pleaded not guilty to the charge Monday, appearing by video link at a hearing held at Kingston Crown Court in south-west London.

Speaking about the developments for the first time, Kerr’s club coach Emma Hayes says the 30-year-old has “our full support – she knows that.”

Together, they have helped Chelsea to Women’s Super League titles in each of the last four seasons and are on course for a fifth, in what is Hayes’ final season in charge before she takes the reins of the U.S. women’s national team.

Kerr has featured in only eight WSL games so far this season, having suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury on a warm-weather training camp in early January. Later that month, she agreed a contract extension with her current Chelsea deal due to expire in the summer.

After news of her court appearance broke, the Metropolitan Police confirmed that a fortnight after her injury blow, she was formally charged “with a racially aggravated offense”.

In a statement, the Met said: “The charge relates to an incident involving a police officer who was responding to a complaint involving a taxi fare on 30 January 2023 in Twickenham.”

Kerr’s criminal trial is not due to be held until February 2025, although there will be another hearing next month at which her lawyers will attempt to get the charge downgraded or dismissed.

Harassment convictions in the U.K. that relate to racially aggravated offenses can result in a sentence of up to two years in prison.

At a media conference ahead of Chelsea’s FA Women’s League Cup semifinal against Manchester City, Hayes was asked about the situation and said it was “a difficult time” for her star striker.

“I can say that I know she’s pleaded not guilty and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize anything for Sam by speaking about it,” said Hayes. “For that reason, I’m sure you can appreciate that’s all I’m going to say on the matter.

“But she has our full support, she knows that. It’s really important I get that across. It’s something I really, really value.”

Football Australia CEO James Johnson said the governing body had been unaware of the legal proceedings against their national-team captain.

“We woke up to this this morning,” Johnson told reporters. “Of course, it’s a very serious allegation. It regards 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 got to work her way through and we’re respectful of that.”

Kerr last played for the Matildas in the World Cup third-place playoff match in August, when the team lost 2-0 to Sweden – her 128th cap for her country.

After taking a vacation, she returned to club duties and also celebrated her engagement to USWNT midfielder Kristie Mewis after four years together. Mewis has since signed for Chelsea’s WSL rivals West Ham.

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