Swiss football league takes congested season to last-day drama

Switzerland will be the last pandemic-delayed European league to complete its 2019-20 season.

Football

Swiss football still faces economic challenges, with clubs relying on match day sales for up to 45 percent of their pre-pandemic revenue,   -  Getty Images/ Representative Photo

About 90 minutes before UEFA’s August 3 deadline to enter clubs in the next Champions League season, Switzerland will be the last pandemic-delayed European league to complete its 2019-20 season.

The Swiss league will have needed all those available days to fulfill its program - after multiple positive tests for COVID-19 at one of its 10 clubs - and maybe even to find a champion.

"We are back on track,” league CEO Claudius Schaefer said Tuesday, acknowledging the congested run-in is not ideal amid criticism from clubs which must play five times in 13 days. “From the sport side, it’s really interesting and we have really good matches,” he added.

Title contenders Young Boys and St. Gallen will clash on the final Monday for what could be a decisive match. Defending champion Young Boys leads by two points ahead of its last four games in 12 days.

RELATED| FC Zurich finds several positive tests for COVID-19 among staff and players

The season was to end on August 2 until the positive tests at Zurich this month forced its home game against Sion to be postponed. Fitting in that extra game on Tuesday pushed back the last two rounds for all teams.

“Scandal,” Sion midfielder Pajtim Kasami said of the league on his Twitter account last week.

Faced with a hard deadline from UEFA to enter teams in the next Champions League and Europa League, the Swiss league could not extend its season.

"We thought we’d find a way with UEFA but we could not,” Schaefer said of an agreement European football officials struck amid the unprecedented disruption.

UEFA’s one-year postponement of the European Championship cleared June and July for national leagues to finish their seasons and fulfill broadcasting contracts - a key move to stabilise the football economy.

In return, UEFA needed August to complete its own men’s club competitions by August 23 and know which teams are entering next season’s editions. Swiss teams will begin the qualifying rounds on August 25.

RELATED|UEFA chief confident European season will finish by August

The situation was complicated in Switzerland by postponing games in February, with 13 rounds left, after a federal ruling to limit mass gatherings.

Days later, when UEFA member federations met in Amsterdam, Switzerland took the floor as the first European league to shut down and warned of the looming crisis.

Swiss football still faces economic challenges, with clubs relying on match day sales for up to 45 percent of their pre-pandemic revenue, Schaefer said.

RELATED| Swiss Cup champion will be denied Europa League spot

Up to 1,000 people can now be in the stadium for league games, with clubs deciding how to allocate tickets to fans.

Schaefer wondered if face masks will be mandatory for fans at future games to help restore confidence. "Even if we have a vaccine I don’t know if you would have 30,000 in the stadium in Bern, or if people are afraid to come,” he said.

So far, public health guidance does require testing on players who do not show symptoms. Schaefer said that will be reassessed before next season starts on September 11.

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