Barcelona forward Lionel Messi and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton became the first joint-winners of the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year on Monday.

Messi and Hamilton were level on votes made by former sports legends who are members of the Laureus Academy.

Argentina international Messi inspired Barca to a 26th LaLiga title last season with 36 goals in 34 appearances, form that earned him a record sixth Ballon d'Or.

Mercedes driver Hamilton was crowned F1 world champion for the sixth time in 2019, putting him second only to Michael Schumacher on the all-time list.

Hamilton was in Berlin to collect his award in person, while Messi – the first individual from a team sport to claim the prize – sent a video message.

"I would like to thank the Academy for giving me this recognition. The truth is that this is a very important and special award," said Messi.

"I am honoured to be the first to win this award being a sportsperson coming from a team sport and not an individual sport, which is usually the case. Thank you very much.

"For me it's a huge delight to be part of this award and the first team player to receive it. Of course, I would like to thank my team-mates, my family and the fans who support me. Thanks to them this kind of individual recognition is possible."

The pair collected more votes than fellow contenders Rafael Nadal, Marc Marquez, Tiger Woods and Eliud Kipchoge. 

Gymnast Simone Biles was named Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year having become the most decorated gymnast in world championship history and helped the United States to a fifth team title.

Cross-country skier Oksana Masters was handed the World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability award.

South Africa men's rugby union side, who won the World Cup in 2019, were selected as the team of the year.

The other major winners were cyclist Egan Bernal (breakthrough), racing driver Sophia Florsch (comeback) and basketball player Dirk Nowitzki (lifetime achievement award).

Barcelona have denied allegations they hired a company to "damage the image" of people associated with the club by spreading negative messages on social media platforms.

Spanish radio network Cadena SER on Monday published a story claiming Barca had been working with a company to produce online content through unofficial accounts aimed at protecting president Josep Maria Bartomeu and the board.

Pep Guardiola, Xavi, Carles Puyol and former president Joan Laporta were said to have been the subjects of negative posts, while current players Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique were also targeted, according to the report.

But Barca are adamant the claims are false, insisting I3 Ventures – the company they have worked with – is not behind the accounts in question.

A club statement read: "With regards to information published today about the contracting of a company dedicated to creating opinion on social media with a view to damaging the image of third parties related directly or indirectly with the club, Barcelona: 

"1.- Roundly deny any relationship, and furthermore, the contracting of services linked to social media accounts that have broadcast negative or disparaging messages related to any person, entity or organisation that may be, or have been, related to the club. 

"2.- I3 Ventures, a service provider to the club, has no relationship with the accounts mentioned and, if any relationship was to come to light, the club would immediately end their contractual agreement and bring about any necessary legal action to defend their interests. 

"3.- As such, Barcelona confirm that it has services contracted relating to the monitoring of social media with the aim of analysing both positive and negative messages about the organisation itself. 

"4.- With the contracting of these services, the club is attempting to look after and preserve its reputation as well those of people related to the club (sponsors, players, board members, members, supporters' club members...), as far as the protection of this reputation is a fundamental element and responsibility for those who work for the organisation. 

"5.- The club demands an immediate rectification of the information published and reserves the right to exercise legal action against those who continue to implicate the club in such practices."

Barcelona have denied allegations they hired a company to "damage the image" of people associated with the club by spreading negative messages on social media platforms.

Spanish radio network Cadena SER on Monday published a story claiming Barca had been working with a company to produce online content through unofficial accounts aimed at protecting president Josep Maria Bartomeu and the board.

Pep Guardiola, Xavi, Carles Puyol and former president Joan Laporta were said to have been the subjects of negative posts, while current players Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique were also targeted, according to the report.

But Barca are adamant the claims are false, insisting I3 Ventures – the company they have worked with – is not behind the accounts in question.

A club statement read: "With regards to information published today about the contracting of a company dedicated to creating opinion on social media with a view to damaging the image of third parties related directly or indirectly with the club, Barcelona: 

"1.- Roundly deny any relationship, and furthermore, the contracting of services linked to social media accounts that have broadcast negative or disparaging messages related to any person, entity or organisation that may be, or have been, related to the club. 

"2.- I3 Ventures, a service provider to the club, has no relationship with the accounts mentioned and, if any relationship was to come to light, the club would immediately end their contractual agreement and bring about any necessary legal action to defend their interests. 

"3.- As such, Barcelona confirm that it has services contracted relating to the monitoring of social media with the aim of analysing both positive and negative messages about the organisation itself. 

"4.- With the contracting of these services, the club is attempting to look after and preserve its reputation as well those of people related to the club (sponsors, players, board members, members, supporters' club members...), as far as the protection of this reputation is a fundamental element and responsibility for those who work for the organisation. 

"5.- The club demands an immediate rectification of the information published and reserves the right to exercise legal action against those who continue to implicate the club in such practices."

Napoli could be without Elseid Hysaj when they take on Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with the right-back having suffered a sprained knee.

Albania international Hysaj went off with 10 minutes remaining in Napoli's 1-0 Serie A victory over Cagliari at the Sardegna Arena on Sunday.

Tests carried out on Monday showed the 26-year-old has sustained damage to the medial collateral ligament in his right knee.

Reports in Italy suggest Hysaj could be set for two weeks on the sidelines, which makes him a doubt for the visit of Barcelona next Tuesday.

Napoli face Brescia in Serie A on Friday and entertain Torino four days after taking on Barca at Stadio San Paolo.

The second leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final against Inter, in which they hold a 1-0 aggregate lead, is scheduled for March 5.

Lionel Messi is unlikely to leave Barcelona and it would be a "nice story" if the Argentine legend were to finish his career at Camp Nou, according to Juventus great Alessandro Del Piero.

Reports emerged this month that Messi may be tempted to walk away from Barca after a public row with the club's sporting director Eric Abidal.

The timing of the rift with his former team-mate came at a difficult time for Barca, given Messi has a clause in his contract allowing him to leave for free at the end of the campaign.

Manchester City were linked with an audacious move that would have seen Messi link up with ex-Barca boss Pep Guardiola, who denied he would try to press ahead with a deal, while Serie A champions Juve have also been touted with putting together a package.

The latter would of course see Messi line up alongside long-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo but former Italy international Del Piero believes the Argentina superstar – a nominee for Sportsman of the Year at the 20th annual Laureus World Sports Awards on Monday – has little desire for a Barca exit.

Speaking ahead of the Laureus World Sports Awards, Del Piero told Omnisport:  "He [Messi] is a genius. 

"It's easy to nominate a player like him. He has had an important season. So that's why he has been nominated for this award.

"I don't think he is thinking about leaving the club. He's got a solid relationship with the club. Everything suggests he can stay there all his career. It's going to be a nice story."

Del Piero won six Serie A titles and the Champions League during a distinguished career at Juve, who he represented between 1993 and 2012.

Juve have been the dominant force in Serie A for almost a decade, winning eight consecutive league titles.

This season has been a thriller thus far in Italy's top flight, though, with table-toppers Juve just a point clear of second-place Lazio and three of Inter in third.

Del Piero thinks the battle for supremacy can only be a good thing for Italian football.

"Finally we have a title race [in Serie A] that can last for more than three or four months," he added. 

"We were used to seeing Juventus having a big gap in January. This situation is positive. 

"Inter have improved a lot and Lazio are having an incredible season. We are happy for this challenge in Italy."

Real Madrid and Barcelona target Lautaro Martinez is eager to play for Inter, insisted club CEO Giuseppe Marotta.

Martinez continues to be linked with a move away from Serie A side Inter – LaLiga giants Madrid and Barca as well as Manchester United and Manchester City reportedly interested.

LaLiga holders Barca have been linked to Martinez as they eye a long-term replacement for veteran forward Luis Suarez.

Marotta was asked about Martinez prior to Sunday's 2-1 loss to Scudetto rivals Lazio in Rome.

"Lautaro is improving, he is a very young lad who I think is above all eager to wear this glorious jersey and grow professionally," Marotta told Sky Sport Italia.

"As I always say, players only leave Inter when they point towards that exit."

Martinez has taken centre stage alongside Romelu Lukaku since Mauro Icardi's initial loan move to French champions Paris Saint-Germain at the start of the season.

The 22-year-old has scored 16 goals across all competitions for Inter, who are third and three points behind leaders Juventus in Serie A.

Argentina international Martinez has netted 25 goals in total since arriving from Racing Club in 2018.

Lionel Messi cannot diminish his reputation by leaving Barcelona because "he is the history" of the club, according to two-time World Cup winner Cafu.

Former Milan and Roma star Cafu, who is Brazil's most-capped player of all-time, says Messi "will always be Messi", regardless of which club he represents.

Speculation surrounding Messi's Barcelona future has intensified in recent weeks, amid suspicions he might consider a late-career move.

Messi reacted angrily to comments from Barcelona director of football Eric Abidal, who questioned the commitment of players during Ernesto Valverde's reign at Camp Nou.

The situation appears to have been defused for now, and Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni recently said he has no concerns about the future of his international captain.

Messi, 32, is a six-time Ballon d'Or winner and there could be a scramble among the world's richest clubs for his services if he decided he wished to seek another challenge.

Cafu admits he does not know what choice Messi will make.

"Nobody knows. It is difficult to say whether Messi will continue at Barcelona or if he will change teams," the former Champions League winner told Omnisport.

"Messi today is the man of Barcelona, he is the history of Barcelona. But if by his choice he decides to change the team, he will always be Messi and we will always be rooting for him."

Messi is Barcelona's record scorer, having netted over 650 times for the Spanish giants - more than twice as many goals as any other player.

He has racked up scores of individual records and accolades during a dazzling professional career, which has been spent in its entirety with Barcelona.

Cafu was speaking in Berlin ahead of Monday's Laureus World Sports Awards, at which Messi is a nominee for the Sportsman of the Year prize.

"If Messi was named Sportsman of the Year it is because he deserved it all year through football," said Cafu. "Playing ball, bringing joy, having fun and making Barcelona bigger and bigger."

Cafu savours his own role as a member of the award voting panel and academy at Laureus, which aims to improve the lives of young people around the world, saying: "It is an honour to be part of an institution as serious as Laureus."

Lionel Messi and Liverpool are among the front-runners for prizes at the prestigious Laureus World Sports Awards in Berlin on Monday.

Liverpool are up for two gongs after a wonderful year, as they won the 2018-19 Champions League and took a massive leap towards a first top-flight title in 30 years.

Jurgen Klopp's side look set to break a host of records this season, as they have dropped points in just one of their 25 matches and hold a remarkable 22-point lead over defending champions Manchester City in second.

The Reds are in the running for two prizes in the Laureus Sports Awards' 20th anniversary gala – World Team of the Year and Comeback of the Year, the latter on account of their astonishing Champions League semi-final turnaround at the expense of Barcelona.

Among those challenging Liverpool for the former are the United States' Women's football team and the Toronto Raptors, who became the first Canadian franchise win an NBA championship.

A selection of sporting superstars are up for the Sportsman of the Year award, with Barcelona and Argentina icon Lionel Messi among them following his record-breaking sixth Ballon d'Or.

Also in the running is Eliud Kipchoge after the Kenyan became the first athlete to run a marathon in under two hours last October, covering the 26.2 miles in one hour, 59 minutes and 40.2 seconds in Vienna.

Ballon d'Or Feminin winner Megan Rapinoe is among those in the hunt for the Sportswoman of the Year gong, although gymnast Simone Biles also has a compelling case.

The 22-year-old last year won five gold medals at the World Championships to become the most decorated gymnast in the event's history, and has won this award twice before, in 2019 and 2017.

The event will take place at the Verti Music Hall in Berlin on Monday. Below is a complete list of the awards up for grabs and the athletes nominated.

Sportsman of the Year

Eliud Kipchoge – Athletics
Lewis Hamilton – Formula One
Lionel Messi – Football
Marc Marquez – MotoGP
Rafael Nadal – Tennis
Tiger Woods – Golf

Sportswoman of the Year

Allyson Felix – Athletics
Megan Rapinoe – Football
Mikaela Shiffrin – Skiing
Naomi Osaka – Tennis
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce – Athletics
Simone Biles – Gymnastics

 

Team of the Year

Liverpool – Football
Mercedes-AMG – Formula One
South Africa – Rugby Union
Spain – Basketball
Toronto Raptors – Basketball
United States Women – Football

Breakthrough of the Year

Andy Ruiz – Boxing
Bianca Andreescu – Tennis
Coco Gauff – Tennis
Egan Bernal – Cycling
Japan – Rugby Union
Regan Smith – Swimming

 

Comeback of the Year

Andy Murray – Tennis
Christian Lealiifano – Rugby Union
Kawhi Leonard – Basketball
Liverpool – Football
Nathan Adrian – Swimming
Sophia Florsch – Formula Three

Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability

Alice Tai – Swimming
Diede de Groot – Wheelchair Tennis
Jetze Plat – Triathlon
Manuela Schar – Wheelchair Racing
Oksana Masters – Cross Country Skiing
Omara Durand – Athletics

 

Action Sportsperson of the year

Carissa Moore – Surfing
Chloe Kim – Snowboarding
Italo Ferreira – Surfing
Mark McMorris – Snowboarding
Nyjah Huston – Skateboarding
Rayssa Leal – Skateboarding

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo picked Real Madrid over Barcelona when presented with an offer ahead of the NBA All-Star Game.

Antetokounmpo will lead Team Giannis against Team LeBron in Chicago on Sunday.

But the reigning NBA MVP faced a different test on Saturday, when he was offered Barcelona and Real Madrid shirts.

"We've got Real Madrid, who's the player though?" Antetokounmpo said, assessing his options.

"I love both of these players, [Lionel] Messi or [Cristiano] Ronaldo, who used to play with Real.

"But I'll probably go with Real. There you go, Real."

Madrid can restore their three-point lead atop LaLiga when they host Celta Vigo on Sunday.

Quique Setien was unimpressed with Getafe's physical approach and referee Guillermo Cuadra Fernandez after Barcelona's 2-1 LaLiga win over Getafe.

Barca moved level on points with leaders Real Madrid, who face Celta Vigo in their game in hand on Sunday, courtesy of first-half goals from Antoine Griezmann and Sergi Roberto at Camp Nou on Saturday.

The Barca-linked Angel Rodriguez gave Getafe hope when he pulled one back in the second half, but the reigning LaLiga champions were not to be denied all three points.

Head coach Setien felt referee Cuadra Fernandez should have come down harder on what he deemed to be spoiling tactics from Getafe.

Asked what he was saying to the fourth official, Setien said: "I was complaining because many times you risk going out from the back and when you are fouled you have to start over.

"That hurts the pace of the game. I think they have made 30 fouls against 12, and we had one more [yellow] card.

"I think the referee had to be more severe. Sometimes you have no luck."

Setien was not interested in discussing why he did not shake hands with his opposite number Jose Bordalas.

"I want to talk about what happened on the pitch, that is where football is played." he said.

"We were nervous at the start, and Getafe made it very difficult for us with their press."

Hackers targeted LaLiga giants Barcelona and the Olympic Games movement on Saturday as their Twitter accounts were attacked.

The OurMine group posted messages on multiple accounts belonging to Barcelona and the International Olympic Committee.

Barcelona have accounts in several languages and relating to various aspects of the club, including their La Masia youth academy, and all appeared to have been hacked.

The hacking incident came soon after Barca beat Getafe to join Real Madrid on 52 points at the top of LaLiga.

Each account sent out the message: "Hi, we are OurMine. Well, this is the second time, the security level is better but still not the best to improve your accounts security."

The OurMine group previously hacked Barcelona's Twitter in 2017, falsely claiming the club would be signing Angel Di Maria from Paris Saint-Germain.

Barcelona acknowledged the latest cybersecurity breach after taking back control of their accounts, posting: "FC Barcelona's Twitter accounts have been hacked, which is why messages from outside our club have appeared, and which have been reported and deleted. The tweets were made through a third-party tool for data analytics.

"FC Barcelona will conduct a cybersecurity audit and will review all protocols and links with third party tools, in order to avoid such incidents and to guarantee the best service to our members and fans. We apologise for any inconvenience this situation may have caused."

The Olympic Games accounts were similarly attacked.

Messages from OurMine were posted across its official accounts, including those for the Olympics, Athlete365 and IOC Media, before being deleted.

The hacker group has previously targeted such organisations as WikiLeaks, Real Madrid, the NFL and its teams, Facebook, Instagram and the New York Times.

Jordi Alba appears to be an injury doubt for Barcelona's clash with Real Madrid on March 1 after sustaining a groin problem in the win over Getafe.

Alba - who has endured an injury-hit campaign - went off 22 minutes into Saturday's match at Camp Nou.

He was replaced by Junior Firpo, who played a key part in teeing up Sergi Roberto's strike - a goal which ultimately proved to be the winner for Barca, who had to hold off a second-half fightback from the visitors.

Barca confirmed during the match that Alba had suffered a problem to his right adductor, with tests subsequently confirming the injury.

It is not yet clear how long the 30-year-old will be sidelined for, but it seems his participation in both the Champions League last-16 tie with Napoli and the Clasico are in doubt.

The victory took Quique Setien's side - temporarily at least - level on points with Madrid at the top of LaLiga, with Zinedine Zidane's side not in action until Sunday.

Antoine Griezmann says he is thoroughly enjoying life at Barcelona, even though he is still learning how to play alongside Lionel Messi.

Griezmann ended a five-match scoreless streak in LaLiga with a deft finish to open the scoring in a cagey 2-1 win over Getafe at Camp Nou on Saturday.

The goal was teed up brilliantly by Messi, with Sergi Roberto adding a second for Barca before Angel Rodriguez's goal for Getafe set up a tense finish.

France forward Griezmann missed a great chance to restore Barca's two-goal cushion late on, and acknowledged he is still adapting to playing with Messi.

"We knew how hard Getafe would be to play against," Griezmann said. "They put a lot of pressure on and pressed high. They are third for a reason but we kept cool, tried to play the ball well from the back. It was tough but we suffered and won.

"I've been here six months, we still have to learn. I have to learn [Messi's] movements and he has to learn mine. We're enjoying the work we put in together and it's getting better and better all the time. I'm very happy and really enjoying myself here.

"I missed a chance which I shouldn't have done, it came to my weaker foot but luckily it didn't matter."

Getafe started strong at Camp Nou and thought they had the lead when Allan Nyom prodded in from a corner, but VAR disallowed the goal for a foul on Samuel Umtiti.

The visitors did haul themselves back into the contest when Angel volleyed home in the 66th minute, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen pulling off a fine double save to deny Getafe an equaliser.

Angel has been linked with a move to Barca as the defending champions aim to replace Ousmane Dembele and Nyom is unsure if the striker will be staying with Getafe.

"He's got a lot of quality," Nyom said of the 32-year-old. 

"He's a killer in front of goal and I'm delighted he's with us. I don't know whether he's staying or not."

Antoine Griezmann ended a five-match scoreless streak in LaLiga as Barcelona survived a second-half fightback to claim a 2-1 victory over third-placed Getafe.

Needing a win to put themselves level on points with table-toppers Real Madrid, Quique Setien's side started sluggishly on Saturday and would have gone behind if not for VAR.

Barca made their good fortune count, though, Lionel Messi - on his 350th official appearance at Camp Nou - setting up Griezmann to open the scoring in the 33rd minute.

Sergi Roberto doubled Barca's tally before half-time, but Barca-linked Angel Rodriguez set up a grandstand finish, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen just managing to deny Getafe an equaliser as the champions held on.

Jordi Alba succumbed to a right adductor injury in the 22nd minute, with Junior Firpo introduced, and things looked to have got worse for the hosts when Allan Nyom tucked home from a corner, only for the goal to be ruled out by VAR for a foul on Samuel Umtiti.

Marc Cucurella was inches away from putting his parent club behind moments later, yet it was Barca who broke the deadlock when Messi fed a wonderful, disguised pass through to Griezmann, who finished with a sublime flick over David Soria.

It was 2-0 six minutes later - Roberto sending a first-time finish into the bottom-right corner at the culmination of a slick move, and only a fine save from Soria prevented Messi adding a third before half-time.

Angel was brought on shortly after the restart and the change had the desired impact when he volleyed in from the edge of the box.

Ter Stegen denied Jaime Mata a tap-in with 18 minutes remaining and, though Griezmann squandered two great chances, Barca ultimately made their goalkeeper's save count as they claimed the points.

What does it mean? All level at the top

With Madrid not in action until Sunday, Barca are - temporarily at least - level on points with Los Blancos at the top. The rivals go head-to-head at the start of March, in what looks set to be a pivotal clash in the title race.

Angel makes his mark at Camp Nou

Barca seem set to be given dispensation to sign a forward due to the season-ending injury suffered by Ousmane Dembele and Angel is one of the players reportedly high on their list.

If he is indeed to wind up as a Barca player in the coming weeks, the 32-year-old did his chances no harm with an exquisite finish - his 10th league goal of the season.

More injury woe for Alba

It has been an injury hit campaign for Barca full-back Alba and his frustrations continued when he hobbled off midway through the first half and he could well now be a doubt for the Champions League encounter with Napoli on February 25, as well as a crucial Clasico on March 1.

What's next?

Barca are at home again in their next league fixture, against Eibar, while Getafe face Ajax in the Europa League on Thursday.

Barcelona had an approach for Loren Moron rejected as they continue to explore options to ease their injury woes, according to Real Betis coach Rubi.

Barca were dealt a severe blow this week when they confirmed Ousmane Dembele is expected to be out for six months after hamstring surgery.

With Luis Suarez also sidelined, Barca are reported to have been granted special dispensation to sign a replacement, providing the player in question is either a free agent or already based in Spain.

Willian Jose, Angel Rodriguez, Lucas Perez and Loren were said to be their chief targets, though a reported €12million budget limits them significantly.

And Rubi admitted Barca did make an approach for Loren but were unsuccessful, with Betis not willing to let the player go.

"Loren is going to end the season with Betis," Rubi said of the striker who has scored eight LaLiga goals in 22 appearances this term.

"They have asked, but the operation is 99 per cent not done. We don't want him to leave and they have looked at many [players].

"Loren trains just as well as always. This is something that happens in football.

"We couldn't sign another player unless his release clause is paid. Loren's €50million, so 99 per cent it is not done.

"The information I have is that he is [staying] here and that is what we all want."

Loren, 26, was given his league debut for Betis by current Barca coach Quique Setien in February 2018.

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