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Report criticises handling of "spitting affair"

Fässler has pointed to some failings in the SFA’s conduct

(Keystone)

An independent report has criticised the Swiss Football Association (SFA) for its handling of an incident in which striker Alex Frei spat at an opponent at Euro 2004.

It concluded that the SFA did not lie about the affair, but could have acted more professionally in the way it dealt with the matter.

The report, by Lucerne-based lawyer Ulrich Fässler, examined the circumstances surrounding the so-called “spitting affair”.

Last month Frei was suspended for three international matches by European football’s governing body, Uefa, for spitting at England midfielder Steven Gerrard during a Euro 2004 match in Portugal.

Uefa originally dismissed the case for lack of evidence, but Swiss television footage later surfaced showing the player clearly spitting at Gerrard.

During the uproar that followed, the SFA stood accused of forcing Frei to lie about the incident, but Uefa said it had uncovered no evidence that members of the association had acted improperly.

Criticism

Fässler’s long-awaited report, released on Tuesday, strongly criticised the SFA and in particular the delegation it sent to represent Switzerland at Euro 2004.

The lawyer concluded that SFA delegates were not well-prepared and that those present in Portugal reacted too slowly to the incident.

Fässler added that he found it “hard to believe” that no member of the delegation had tried to speak to Frei, adding that this was probably the main reason why no Swiss officials appeared to know what really happened.

According to Fässler, the affair blew up after Frei sought advice from Pierre Benoit, the SFA’s head of communications.

The report also confirmed that both men decided not to disclose to other members of the delegation what really happened.

Fässler said Benoit should have told his superiors and that his decision not to do so had damaged the SFA’s credibility.

“As head of communications, [Benoit] had… a lot of freedom. His competences were not clearly defined,” wrote Fässler.

But he added that the SFA should have been given more time to assess the television pictures that came to light.

Cleared

Responding to the report in a statement on Tuesday, the SFA said it welcomed the fact that its members had been cleared of any serious wrongdoing.

“The SFA notes with satisfaction that the original allegations made by some parties about the official delegation, in which they are supposed to have... manipulated Alex Frei, are invalid,” said the association.

The SFA said that it recognised that it had made several mistakes in Portugal and that it would be examining the recommendations made in the report.

It added that it was already taking steps to put a system in place to ensure that such errors are not repeated.

The SFA also revealed that it would be reassessing its communications policy. Benoit had earlier been relieved of his duties as head of communications pending the publication of Fässler’s report.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

"Spitting affair" timeline:
June 17: Frei spits at England’s Steven Gerrard during Euro 2004 match.
June 18: Frei denies the allegations.
June 20: Frei’s case is dismissed by Uefa, but new TV pictures come to light.
July 15: Uefa suspends Frei for three international matches.

end of infobox

In brief

Alex Frei was suspended for three international matches by Uefa in July.

He was provisionally suspended from Switzerland’s last match in Euro 2004 against France, which saw the Swiss side eliminated from the tournament.

The striker will also miss next month’s World Cup qualifiers against the Faroe Islands and Ireland.

end of infobox


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