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Rising football violence causes concern

Violence among the few is ruining the game for many youngsters

The Swiss Football Association (SFA) is alarmed by an increasing trend towards violent behaviour on the pitch involving youth players in amateur leagues.

Several instances of players attacking the opposition or referees in recent weeks appear to show that the problem is escalating. The SFA is particularly concerned that some offenders are as young as 13.

The situation comes against the backdrop of crowd violence that blighted the reputation of football at the end of last season.

The SFA introduced tough measures against hooliganism earlier this year and recently launched a campaign called Play Football Switzerland, which reaches into schools, in an effort to boost the sport ahead of the Euro 2008 tournament.

But the various strategies designed to improve the spirit of the game are going unheard in the amateur leagues, according to one player.

Florian Krebs, 24, told swissinfo that he has noticed more junior players resorting to violence when things go against them on the pitch.

The FC Flamatt player said the problem has never been so bad in his six years of playing amateur football. He has seen teammates attacked and has had to escort a referee from the pitch who was being threatened by players.

"We are at the point now that we know there is a strong possibility of violence if we beat a team. Some players only seem to have fun if they are winning," he said.

"The real problem is not so much with the senior sides, but with the 13 to 15 year-olds. There is a growing trend of violence among junior players."

Social problem

SFA technical director Hansruedi Hasler is also concerned by the recent bad behaviour of youngsters. But he believes the problem is symptomatic of today's society rather than one isolated to football.

"We have had quite a few cases of violence in the past few weeks. It is hard to determine whether it is a growing problem or whether clubs and the media are just getting more sensitive to the issue," he told swissinfo.

"It seems to take less for a 13- or 14-year-old to lose respect and become violent than it used to. This is not just a problem in football, but also in schools and society in general. If football is not fair, then it loses its quality as a sport and parents will think twice about letting their children play."

More players than ever, particularly youngsters, are thronging to join amateur clubs in Switzerland. Last year there were 2,837 new registered players (2,469 of them juniors) with 249 extra teams created to cope with demand.

More are expected in the coming years, following the success of the Swiss national side in the World Cup and the impending Euro 2008 tournament, to be co-hosted by Switzerland and Austria.

But the sport's rise in popularity appears to be testing the capacity of its ruling authorities to ensure fair play.

Sanctions

Part of the problem has been attributed to a rise in players of foreign origin. One side made up of players of Turkish origin now living in Switzerland has recently been banned following a post-match riot.

"Four out of five incidents are started by foreign players," the SFA's Robert Breiter told SonntagsBlick newspaper.

The SFA has called a meeting with officials running the amateur leagues in January to thrash out the problems and find a solution. But Hasler would not comment on what type of measures would be discussed.

Krebs is in no doubt that the authorities should impose tougher penalties to force clubs and players to behave. "Clubs should impose their own discipline and eject players that behave badly. But some clubs are too tolerant with their players," he said.

"If a team is full of bad people then the association should step in and throw them out."

Hasler played down the impact the problem could have on Euro 2008, but admitted that something must be done. "This is an image problem for football in general, not just Euro 2008. But it is obviously bad timing," he said.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen

In brief

The Swiss amateur football league is made of up 13 regional bodies.

Representatives of each will meet on January 13 together with the umbrella authority, the SFA, to discuss the issue of violence and lack of respect during amateur games.

In October alone, referees reported over a dozen incidents of bad behaviour by players, resulting in individual bans for players and one club being thrown out of the leagues.

The Swiss Football League, governing professional leagues in Switzerland, introduced a series of anti-hooligan measures in July following bad behaviour by fans last season. This culminated in a pitch invasion by fans after the title-clinching match between FC Zurich and FC Basel in May.

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