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Basel stadium to usher in new era

Will Basel's new stadium mean blue skies for Swiss football?


Basel football club open the doors to their new home on Thursday. The SFr 230 million St Jakob Park is being heralded as the first of several modern stadia aimed at giving "the beautiful game" a much-needed face-lift in Switzerland.

Years of neglect have left the country's biggest football grounds in a sorry state, with bleak terracing and crumbling concrete steps offering stark contrast to the gleaming structures that have been springing up elsewhere in Europe and around the world.

But, finally the Swiss are starting to catch up. As Basel prepare to welcome Lausanne for Thursday's opening fixture in front of a sell-out crowd of 35,000 fans, plans are underway to build similar arenas in Geneva, St Gallen and Bern. New grounds are also being considered by the football clubs of Aarau, Zurich and Lucerne.

The president of the Swiss football association, Ralph Zloczower, believes the new stadia will give the sport a much-needed push after years of stagnation.

"We have been talking for decades in Switzerland about the need to build new stadia," Zloczower points out. "And because we have waited so long, there was no longer any point trying to renovate the existing buildings.

"The Swiss have never had the same passion for football as they have in Italy, England or Spain. And so, in the past, there was never much demand from the public, the politicians or the economy to do something about the situation here. But I think that has changed now."

The first signs of that change will be apparent on Thursday when thousands of Basel supporters throng into their brand new stadium, designed by the Basel-based architects of London's acclaimed Tate Modern extension, Herzog & de Meuron.

As well as raising interest in the game domestically, the Swiss FA are also hoping that the St Jakob Park stadium and its planned successors can help boost the chances of Switzerland's joint bid with Austria to host the 2008 European Championships.

"As soon as people realise that new, state-of-the-art football stadiums are going to be ready for use in Basel, Bern, Zurich and Geneva by 2006 or 2007, then our chances are going to be better than ever before," insists Zloczower.

While the Swiss FA look to a distant horizon crowded with futuristic sports grounds, plenty of Basel fans will be focussed on the simple short-term desire for three points from Thursday's match.

Two games into the championship round, Christian Gross's side are still looking for their first victory. Lausanne, meanwhile, will be relishing the chance to gatecrash Basel's party - an away win would put the visitors top of the Swiss league table, and take a good deal of the fizz out of the St Jakob champagne.

swissinfo with agencies


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