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Santander boycotts Copa quarters in wage protest

SANTANDER, Spain -- Racing Santander made good on its threat to boycott its Copa del Rey quarterfinal against Real Sociedad over unpaid wages, refusing to play on Thursday because the club's president did not resign.

Sociedad held a 3-1 first-leg lead going into the match at El Sardinero Stadium, but players from third-tier Santander said they had no intention of playing if Angel Lavin and his board did not step down.

Both teams took to the field but Santander's players immediately lined up near the half after kickoff and refused to play, with the referee suspending the game after one minute.

Sociedad kicked the ball around before shooting it into the stands where 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,” coach Paco Fernandez said. “Today was the most important game of our lives, but our dignity took precedence.”

International players' union, FIFPRO, and Spanish union AFE both supported the move, which comes after the lower-tier club's players had not been paid in four months despite promises by Lavin.

Santander's actions could see the club fined or even banned from the Copa del Rey next season.

“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.”

It's not the first time that Santander has used the domestic cup competition to bring awareness to its situation, with the players standing idly for 30 seconds to start a last-16 game against Almeria before eventually playing. That match also saw Santander ultras invade the president's box, sparking off violent scenes.

Fans were allowed to enter El Sardinero for free on Thursday.

Santander has slipped down to the third division in just two seasons following the exit of former owner Ahsan Ali Syed, who left the club in crisis, relegated from the top-flight in 2012 and needing a cash injection just to stay afloat.

Santander is not the first team to refuse to play a Copa del Rey game, with Barcelona boycotting a return leg against Atletico Madrid during the 1999-2000 season. But in that case, Barcelona boycotted because of scheduling with the international calendar leaving it with just nine outfield players available.

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Players of Racing Santander react as they leave the pitch after refusing to play in their Copa del Rey quarterfinal, second leg against Real Sociedad in a dispute with the club's president Angel Lavin over unpaid wages, at El Sardinero stadium in Santander on Thursday, Jan. 30. (AFP)

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