Surveying the damage

Sion, Lugano and Lausanne have been ripped from Switzerland's top division.

The decision to relegate three football clubs from Switzerland's top division because of financial failings is being described as a shake-up of earthquake proportions.

This content was published on June 5, 2002 - 13:51

The seismic metaphor found its way into many of the national newspapers on Wednesday, as the country's media expressed their opinion on the expulsion of Lugano, Lausanne and Sion from the Swiss A league.

Lausanne's 24 Heures sees bitter irony in the fact that the city's top team is now likely to be replaced in the top division by a club, in the shape of FC Lucerne, who only obtained their own licence to play after presenting a false financial guarantee to the national league.

FC Lucerne, along with Lugano and FC Winterthur, could still face relegation or a heavy fine on account of that deception but with a decision not due until the end of the coming season, the Lausanne newspaper is far from convinced that justice has been done.

"Black day"

Lausanne's head trainer Bertine Barberis clearly agrees with that sentiment, telling the Tribune de Genève that the national league's decision marked a "black day" for Swiss football.

Although Lausanne are currently struggling to clear debts of almost SFr3 million ($1.91 million), Barberis insists that the club should have been given more time and support by the league.

"I'm struck to see that it takes 15 years to question an idiotic championship system," Barberis told the Tribune in reference to recent changes made to the Swiss league structure, "but just six months to condemn these clubs. Where else would you see radical decisions like that being taken?"

League blamed

Le Temps believes that the league must also take some of the blame for the situation in which the three relegated clubs now find themselves, arguing in its editorial that the warning signs had been visible for years.

The Tribune de Genève points out that the ongoing row between Lausanne and former club president Waldemar Kita has hardly helped matters with Kita clutching onto his share of the transfer rights to 12 of the club's top players. With relegation now making many of those players' contracts void, current president Bernard Jaton tells the paper that both parties have now ended up on the losing side.

Having seen his team relegated on account of debts of around SFr500,000 ($319,000), FC Sion trainer Jean-Claude Richard was also critical of outgoing chairman Walter Kadji.

"I hold it against him, that he couldn't pay the players their salaries or even settle the social security contributions," Richard complained to the Tribune. "That would have been enough for us to get our playing licence."

Lugano under investigation

With FC Lugano currently in debt to the tune of SFr18 million ($11.6 million) and still under investigation over alleged corruption by the club's late president Helios Jermini, the Ticinese team's relegation was easily the least surprising of the measures taken by the league on Tuesday.

Perhaps as a result of that, the editorial in Wednesday's Corriere del Ticino comes out largely in support of the league's decision.

Arguing that it was "high time for some spring cleaning," the paper hopes that the league will now take the time "to examine the size of its clubs' ambitions and encourage them to stop living beyond their means".

The league's decision will not be wrong, the paper adds, "so long as the licensing laws continue to be applied with the same level of strictness and with equality for all clubs involved.

A less attractive league?

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the national league's decision, most of the country's papers seem to agree that next season's top division will be less attractive following the departure of Sion, Lausanne and Lugano.

The three are set to be replaced in the top division by the relative minnows of Aarau, Delemont and Lucerne, although the league may still vote to reduce the top division from 12 clubs to ten at a meeting in Bern on June 14.

Such a decision would likely cause the league some administrative headaches with the start of the new season now just a month away. But recent events have shown that nothing is unthinkable in Swiss football right now.

by Mark Ledsom

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