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Sex scandal rocks Thun football club

(Keystone Archive)

Swiss first-division side FC Thun has been hit by a scandal with 12 current or former players detained on Tuesday on suspicion of having sex with a 15-year-old girl.

Sexual abuse in sport is a recurring problem, according to experts. There have been several cases of youth football trainers found guilty and similar problems in other sports such as ice hockey, athletics and swimming.

The police, who began their investigations in September, took nine other men into custody.

All those detained have been accused of having sexual relations with the underage girl who was one of the club's fans. The age of consent in Switzerland is 16.

Sexual relations seem to have occurred on more than one occasion, police said in a statement, adding that the encounters appeared to have been mostly consensual. But it is illegal under Swiss law to have sex with a minor if the age difference is greater than three years.

In a statement, management of FC Thun said they were shocked and concerned by the case.

Despite the suspicion hanging over the club, president Kurt Weder said on Swiss public radio that the team would go ahead with all its scheduled training and games. However Tuesday afternoon's training session was cancelled after the news broke.

Asked to comment on the players implicated in this scandal, Weder said the men were innocent until proven guilty and that one should await the results of the investigation.

Thun's main sponsor said that it would also wait for the outcome of the case before deciding what to do. The Frutiger construction company has a one-year contract with the club.

The investigating judge's office said later on Tuesday that criminal proceedings would be instituted against most of the men arrested, who were all released after being questioned.

Sexual transgression

Charles Beuret, spokesman for Bern's Young Boys football club explained that the problem of sexual transgression is well known in football.

Foreign players with no family support are more "in danger" of wrongdoing than married men, he said. For this reason, he added, it is important to accompany these players and to help them integrate into the social scene to avoid "sexual escapades".

Young Boys have a code of behaviour that all players must adhere to and there are strict consequences for those who disobey.

"It is the task of every club to ensure that the relationship between players and fans comply with society's rules," Beuret told swissinfo.

From the fans' point of view sexual abuse by players is generally not an issue as most fans are male. A spokeswoman for FC Basel's "fan project" said that the question had never come up with the club's small number of female fans.

The Federal Sport Office and Swiss Olympic acknowledge there is a problem with sexual abuse in sport and both organisations have been involved in prevention work since 1998.

Thun came to prominence in 2005 by qualifying for the group stage of the Champion's League, Europe's top soccer competition. With an annual budget lower than the individual salaries of many top European players, the team was the smallest side ever to advance to that stage.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The scandal comes at a bad time for FC Thun. René van Eck's team is languishing second from the bottom of the Axpo Super League.

The club is facing a vote among the local population on December 9 to approve the building of a new stadium.

A recent case in ice hockey also tarnished the image of Swiss sports professionals. Two hockey players from La Chaux-de-Fonds in western Switzerland were found guilty of rape in August.

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