Snowboarders threaten to switch flags in cash row
Four leading Swiss snowboarders, including an Olympic champion, are threatening to race for other countries, citing a lack of funding in Switzerland.
They have written to the United Arab Emirates, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Oman and Malta asking for citizenship – and sponsorship.
The move has shocked the Swiss Snowboard Federation, which is currently enjoying its best season ever while the country’s elite skiers flounder on the pistes.
Urs Eiselin, Simon and Philipp Schoch and Ursula Bruhin met officials at the Swiss Olympic Association on Friday in a bid to resolve the situation.
The meeting ended without agreement, but the snowboarders announced they would hold a further round of talks next Thursday.
If the talks fail, the four say they will carry out their threat and race under a different flag.
“We are really serious. We are having to consider whether to stop snowboarding because we don’t get enough money from Switzerland,” said Eiselin, who has won three world cup races this season.
“If there is another nation that would support us, then we would ride for that country.”
According to Eiselin, Switzerland’s snowboarders receive only SFr4,000 ($3,200) per year from the federation, plus some sponsorship and prize money. They say they have to finance the rest of their travel and training costs themselves.
“We have to pay to race for Switzerland,” he said.
They want the Swiss Olympic Association to increase this allowance to SFr30,000 a year – a sum, they say, which is still a drop in the ocean compared with rival teams on the professional circuit.
Eiselin told swissinfo that the team’s Austrian and United States rivals raced on budgets totalling several million dollars.
“In the autumn we had no training for weeks because the coach said he couldn’t afford it. We were at home waiting for money,” complained Eiselin.
“And during the season, we don’t know before a race if we will have a coach with us or not. For the next race in Japan, we will have no one there for us.
“That’s the biggest problem at the events: no training, no physiotherapist, nothing.”
Best season ever
The Swiss snowboarding team has achieved 23 podium finishes so far the season - the best performance by any country, according to Eiselin.
Their achievements put Switzerland’s skiers to shame. Despite a sizeable budget, they have only managed one podium finish so far this season - and that only came at Kitzbühl in Austria last weekend.
“It's really a bit unfair that the skiers can do poorly and still get a lot of money, while we are having our best season ever and get nothing," said Philipp Schoch, who won gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
"This is a big problem for us."
Dave Sonderegger, president of the snowboard federation, said the threat by the snowboarders to switch nationality had come as “a bolt out of the blue”.
But his deputy, Christian Hanselmann, was quick to criticise the stance taken by the four rebels, saying it would not help anyone.
Eiselin disagrees, arguing that the controversial move has generated debate in Switzerland about their financial plight.
“I think it’s helping a lot because this media attention is putting a lot of pressure on Swiss Olympic,” he added. “They have to decide whether they want to support us.”
Werner Augsburger, head coach at the Swiss Olympic Association, says his goal is to ensure they stay in Switzerland.
“This is a clear cry for help,” he said.
The snowboarders say they have received plenty of support from people telling them they are doing the right thing.
“It’s not that we don’t want to be Swiss – that’s not the point. We all like Switzerland; we want to stay in Switzerland. This is all about sport.”
The action by the four Swiss comes less than a year after the Kenyan athlete, Stephen Cherono, switched nationality to become a Qatari citizen.
He went on to win the 3,000 metres steeplechase at the 2003 world athletics championships in Paris and picked up a $1 million cheque from his adopted country.
Cherono changed not only his nationality, but also his name: he is now known as Saif Saeed Shaheen.
Eiselin told swissinfo he was prepared to do the same – if the price was right.
swissinfo, Adam Beaumont
Four of the country's leading snowboarders are threatening to ditch Switzerland for another nation.
They say they don't receive enough cash to enable them to compete on a level playing field with their rivals.
They say they receive so little money that they end up having to pay to race for Switzerland.
Despite the cash shortfall, Switzerland's snowboarders are enjoying their best season ever.
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