Swiss take drastic action against supporters; clubs fight back

By Tony Attwood

It is in many ways the norm to think that football in all parts of the world is similar.  After all everyone plays by the same rules.   But events this summer have increasingly suggested this is not the case – different countries are travelling in very different directions.

For example according to Blick, at the end of last season, a collective sanction was imposed on the supporters of Lucerne and Saint-Gall. In response to this, instead of laughing at the fate of their opponents, other fan groups across the country decided to unite to protest against the sanctions.

Which is quite remarkable because what caused the official action was fighting between supporters of the two clubs.  The Swiss Football League banned Lucerne and Saint-Gallen supporters from travelling to matches.

In response fans of 18 of the 22 clubs in the top two divisions united in a protest action, and decided to stay outside of the grounds for the first 15 minutes of the matches. The argument is that the sanctions are being imposed against all supporters irrespective of their behaviour at previous matches, rather like a teacher punishing the whole class because of the behaviour of one or two miscreants.

A statement also added, “Since the reopening of stadiums after the pandemic, politicians have unnecessarily sought confrontation with supporters. This is a break with the established way of handling similar events in the past, which relied on dialogue on an equal footing with fans and clubs.”

Meanwhile in Argentina in a match between Velez Sarsfield and Huracan, fans are reported to have come onto the pitch attacking the players, and even assaulting them at gunpoint.  Later, when the team made their jounrye back to their training camp at the Villa Olimpica Stadium, they were visited by the club’s supporters, as cars ambushed some of the players.

Back in Europe Barcelona President Joan Laporta told CNN Sport that there are “no sporting reasons” for a player to move to the Gulf state and play in the Saudi Pro League.

The reasons he suggests might be the high salaries, or the desire of Muslim players to be in a Muslim country and follow Muslim traditions and regulations.  None of which it seems are good reasons.

Certainly, several Muslim players have suggested how much they appreciate playing in a Muslim country where Muslim laws are part of the national law.   But as the bid of $332 million for Paris Saint-Germain striker Kylian Mbappé seems to have failed, we may take it that not all players want to play in that league.

However Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kanté, Kalidou Koulibaly, Edouard Mendy, Roberto Firmino, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson have all said yes to offers from SPL clubs as CNN has reported.  It is reported alsothat Cristiano Ronaldo has signed a two-year contract with Al-Nassr, worth $200 million a year.

Countering this the President of Barcelona FC said, “There are big European clubs, including FC Barcelona, that could help these teams in the Saudi Pro League in order to get some associations to transfer our know-how and to help them to improve their teams.  I think that this is the way to do it. Maybe with academies of football, but at the same time with a direct association in order to improve the quality of these teams in terms of football.”

Then again, Lionel Messi has joined Inter Miami.

But as Dag Henrik Tuastad of the University of Oslo in Norway said in the Athletic “Arab football of the Middle East, is among the most politicised football cultures on Earth.”  As they put it, “The argument is that because football can be a centre for social revolt it needs to be contained – and where better to do the containing of all social revolt (including of course the absolute and total control of women by men, and of the younger generation by the older generation) than in a football stadium that is totally and utterly under the control of the powers that be.”

But to be fair there is some disparity.  “Al Ittihad playing in Jeddah, is considered a team for working-class supporters, associated with African and immigrant players.   But they are also particularly interested in attracting players who are Muslims.”  It would of course be illegal in the Premier League for a club to overtly give preference to, or seek to bring in, players of one particular religion, but it seems we should accept the political and religious will of unelected leaders in other countries.

Apparently in 2021, the Premier League did agree to matches being paused briefly during the holy month of Ramadan so Muslim players could break their fasts at sunset (although I don’t recall that at all).  The French Football Federation, however, sent a message to its referees last season prohibiting match interruptions for players to break their fasts.

That was is undoubtedly due to the constitution of the Republic which very clearly separates religion from the state – something (as I understand it from the outside) a view which dates back to the Revolution of 1789.

And against the concept of doing what Islam requires, Nantes dropped their Algerian defender Jaouen Hadjam because he refused to stop fasting.  And indeed recently a French court supported the decision to ban female players who choose to wear the Islamic headscarf during matches.

In short there is no unification of an approach to how far football should go in allowing people to follow the religion of their choosing, any more than there is a unified approach on how to deal with the behaviour of supporters who are seen to be acting against the interest of the club.   Punishments and allowances seem to be made here and there, according to those in charge, at that moment.

Meanwhile we see the headline Arsenal could do with Saudi Arabia favour to raise £130m and offload four stars.

Really no, I don’t want the club I have supported all my life to be beholden to any country, any religion, nor any group.  I want it to be Arsenal.



3 Replies to “Swiss take drastic action against supporters; clubs fight back”

  1. Anyone can “follow the religion of their choosing”, in the West at least. The question is whether football clubs have to pay them while they are following it even if it means they aren’t doing their jobs properly.

  2. IMHO, this religion issue is fraught with dangers whichever way you look at it. And it is a game of the smallest common denominator. I just do not understand why there would be some moral obligation to ‘adapt’ to any specific religion.

    Our western perspective offers a freedom of religion and some countries went to greater length then others to separate the religious from the social/legal.

    I’m always incensed when I hear criticism about this, when on the other side, in many of the muslims countries the reciprocity is not guaranteed. I have my doubts that an overtly christian player could display his beliefs in some of the muslims countries. Or to keep it out of the religious, just in the lifestyle : remember what happened with alcohol at the Quatar WC ? Did supporters suffer because they couldn’t drink their beer whil watching a game ? I doubt it. Yet, they were not allowed to do it as FIFA just folded under Quatari objections a few days before the WC startes. And I’m not even talking about other aspects like LGBT.

    I’ve been to Algeria a few times for example. I was not married to my significant other – Algerian citizen. Well, she was not allowed into my hotel room… we cold meet at the bar – and drink alcohol…. but no way she could take the elevator….and we have a daughter. Then…I am no star footballer playing for a local club.

    So in our western culture, we accept many pluralities, yet our own way of life is partially illegal in many muslim countries, and in others (less and less) it is accepted.

    In no way am I saying that this ‘western’ culture of tolerating difference is superior, yet there are more ‘freedoms’ that have been hard fought over centuries, and these freedoms are deemed unacceptable in many other cultures.

    So we are being asked to keep being tolerant towards all and we are not receiving the same toloerance when we go there.

    Sure enough, when you are a star footballer, or star actor or star politician…the set of rules is different. The high and the mighty live in a different world.

    So, as long as reciprocity is not there…why are we to apologise for the countries laws and customs and justify them ? Where does it stop ?

    Football and sports in general have become a political whitewashing operation and because money is king, we aare forced to accept limitations and changes in our culture. And saying this I do not mean our western culture is better. But it exists and has no reason to be limited this way.

    The hypocrisy of it all is just a sad fact of what football has become. But we should not accept it as a fact of life.

    And I totally agree with your conclusion : “Really no, I don’t want the club I have supported all my life to be beholden to any country, any religion, nor any group. I want it to be Arsenal.”

  3. How far we have traveled from the sport started by the working class wanting a break at the weekends from their monotonous grinding jobs (and even killing one another during WW1)
    Life was so much simpler then in the supposedly boring monochrome world of yesterday that some of us still remember fondly seeing where we are heading.

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