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Swiss football close to losing top club

A new stadium, but a bleak future for Servette Geneva Keystone

Servette Geneva, one of Switzerland’s most prestigious football clubs, has filed for creditor protection because of massive debts.

If an investor cannot be found before January 21, the club will be declared bankrupt, ending 115 years in the country’s top division.

Servette’s debts are estimated to be around SFr7 million ($6 million). Its owner, Marc Roger, revealed the extent of the club’s financial problems after seeking creditor protection from a Geneva court.

The company which owns the club owes SFr5.5 million. Another firm, which manages the stadium where Servette plays, is SFr1.5 million in the red.

Swiss champions 17 times, Servette started to stumble in 2001 when French television group Canal Plus reduced its majority stake to comply with UEFA ownership rules. Canal Plus was obliged to sell some shares so its other team, Paris St Germain, could compete in the UEFA Cup.

An apparent saviour emerged last February when French players’ agent Marc Roger took over as president and main shareholder.

Promising to return Servette to the glory days, Roger sacked the club’s coach and authorised the acquisition of 21 players, including French World Cup winner Christian Karembeu.

However, according to local media, none of the players or backroom staff have been paid since September.

Fresh funds needed

The club is now pinning its hopes on finding a new investor to save it. “Advanced negotiations with third parties are currently underway,” club lawyer Dominique Warluzel said in a statement on Tuesday.

But many observers believe the search for an investor is likely to be futile, given the lack of official support for the club.

The Geneva club, Switzerland’s best-known team along with Grasshoppers Zurich and Basel, cannot count on public funding to bail it out.

Local minister Laurent Moutinot recently declared that Servette’s disappearance would cause no harm to the local stadium, since no rent had been paid for a year.

Local politicians have also claimed that the club’s plight would have no consequence for the 2008 European Championships due to be staged by Switzerland and Austria.

The stadium used by Servette is one of eight earmarked to host Euro 2008 matches. It cost SFr100 million to build – instead of SFr62 million as planned – and is still not finished.

Foreign owners

If Servette go under, they will be the third top division club to disappear since 2002, after Lausanne and Lugano.

This will leave only Neuchâtel Xamax representing French-speaking Switzerland, with the eight other Super League sides based in the German-speaking part of the country.

“It’s regrettable,” said Edmond Isoz, head of the Swiss Football League. “All of Swiss football will lose out.”

The German-speaking clubs are also concerned about the probable demise of Servette. Basel has no real domestic competition at the moment, and Zurich’s two clubs have always enjoyed a healthy rivalry with the Geneva side.


Isoz says there may be a reason why the French-speaking clubs are suffering at the moment: foreign ownership. “The German-speaking clubs have refused to hand the keys over to foreign investors,” he told swissinfo.

The only exception to this rule was FC Wil, which almost capsized after being taken over by Ukrainian owners.

Lausanne, on the other hand, was buried by French-Polish businessman Waldemir Kita, who allegedly took care of himself before looking after the club.

In Geneva, Roger was preceded by another Frenchman, Michel Coencas, a friend of Bernard Tapie, the infamous former president of French club Olympique de Marseille.

In Sion, the club fell one division after being taken over by a businessman from Cameroon, Gilbert Kadji.


Servette have been Swiss champions 17 times in their 115-year history.
Since 2002, two top division clubs, Lausanne and Lugano, have closed.
If Servette goes under, a team could still play under the Servette name but only in the third division.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR