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Santander boycotts Copa quarters in wage protest

AP - Sports

MADRID (AP) -- Racing Santander players boycotted their Copa del Rey quarterfinal against Real Sociedad on Thursday to protest unpaid wages.

The third-tier team refused to play after the opening whistle at El Sardinero Stadium because the Spanish club's president, Angel Lavin, and his board did not resign. Santander's players lined up near the midfield stripe, and the referee called off the game after one minute.

Sociedad kicked the ball around before shooting it into the stands. Spectators showed their support for the players by chanting: ''Don't play!''

''What we did today was in respect of football, a sport that we love,'' Racing coach Paco Fernandez said. ''Today was the most important game of our lives, but our dignity took precedence.''

Sociedad won the first leg of the total-goals series 3-1.

The international players' union FIFPRO and Spanish union AFE both support the move, which came after players had not been paid in four months despite promises by Lavin.

Santander's actions could result in a fine or even a ban from next season's cup competition.

''It's very difficult to decide to do this, especially in a quarterfinal. It's an extreme situation,'' defender Oriol Lozarano said. ''We know what the consequences could be, that we can be kicked out of the competition, but we knew we had the support of the fans to do what we did.''

At a fifth-round match this month, Santander players stood idly for 30 seconds at the start of the game against Almeria before playing. Some fans invaded the president's box, sparking off violent scenes.

Fans were allowed to enter El Sardinero for free Thursday.

Santander has dropped two levels to the third division in just two seasons following the exit of former owner Ahsan Ali Syed.

Barcelona boycotted a return leg against Atletico Madrid during the 1999-00 because a crowded schedule left it with just nine available non-goalkeepers. Sociedad plays Barcelona in this year's semifinals.

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