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Swiss football scandals through the years

Xherdan Shaqiri doing the double eagle hand gesture
Xherdan Shaqiri doing the double eagle, which cost him CHF10,000 Keystone

Three Swiss footballers have been fined by FIFA for “unsporting behaviour contrary to the principles of fair-play”. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not the first time the Swiss have had their wrists slapped by the authorities. 

It could have been worse, Swiss fans told themselves on Monday. FIFA, world football’s Zurich-based governing body, could have banned Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and captain Stephan Lichtsteiner for making provocative hand gestures of an Albanian national symbol to celebrate World Cup goals against Serbia. As it turned out, they were fined up to CHF10,000 ($10,130) each and given a warning. 

Alex Frei, however, was banned for three games for spitting at an opponent during Euro 2004. Frei, who went on to become Switzerland’s record goal scorer, took exception to England midfielder Steven Gerrard and spat on his neck.  

Alex Frei spitting on Steven Gerrard
Alex Frei clearing his throat – and diary – for three games KEYSTONE/SRF

Not only Frei but also the Swiss Football Association (SFA) came out of the sordid “Spuckaffäre” (spitting affair) badly. It was accused of trying to cover up the incident and of forcing Frei to lie about it. An independent report found no evidence that this was the case, but the report concluded that the SFA could have acted more professionally in the way it dealt with the matter. 

The SFA was also left red-faced in 1995, when Switzerland faced Sweden in Gothenburg in a qualifying match for Euro 1996. As the Swiss national anthem began, some Swiss players, led by Alain Sutter, unfurled a banner saying “Stop it Chirac” – a reference to a nuclear test carried out the previous day in the South Pacific by the French government under President Jacques Chirac. 


Sutter’s action didn’t result in any sanctions – either from the SFA or UEFA, European football’s governing body. It did, however, result in UEFA introducing a strict ban on political stunts and statements. 

What is it with footballers and hand gestures? In 2012, Ottmar Hitzfeld, Switzerland’s coach at the time, had a difference of opinion with the Spanish referee during a World Cup qualifier with Norway and showed him the finger. Cue a two-match ban.  

Ottmar Hitzfeld flipping the bird
Ottmar Hitzfeld getting his point across Keystone

A final controversial match involving Switzerland – although one in which the Swiss were (mostly) innocent victims – took place in Istanbul in 2005. 

At the final whistle of the World Cup play-off game against Turkey, both teams raced from the pitch to escape angry fans, and television footage showed a melee breaking out among players in the tunnel. Swiss defender Stéphane Grichting was injured and hospitalised with a groin injury. Images of Turkish coach Fatih Terim furiously encouraging his players to attack Swiss players went around the world.

Swiss player Raphael Wicky is grabbed by the neck by Turkish Tekke Fatih
Switzerland’s Raphael Wicky is grabbed by the neck by Turkish player Tekke Fatih (in white) Keystone

FIFA ruled that Turkey had to play their next six official home matches behind closed doors and on neutral ground. The ruling also included a fine of CHF200,000 ($154,000 at the time).

In addition two Turkish players were banned for six matches. A similar punishment was handed down to Switzerland’s Benjamin Huggel, who admitted kicking the Turkish assistant coach.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR