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Spengler Cup prosperity leads to dissent

(Keystone)

The 82nd Spengler Cup has been a win-win situation for the ice hockey tournament this year, both economically and for victors Dynamo Moscow.

But there have been dissenting voices among some Swiss hockey clubs who are unhappy that the long-time hosts, HC Davos, are benefitting from such a profitable event.

Between Christmas and New Year the normally tranquil town of Davos was home to ongoing celebrations by ice hockey supporters.

They came in the thousands from around Switzerland this year to attend the annual tournament's 11 games.

In a hard-fought final on Wednesday the Russian team Dynamo Moscow beat the defending champions Team Canada by 5-3.

As in past years, tickets for the event sell like hot cakes, the number of sponsors is constantly growing and the television rights are steadily expanding. The event was broadcast to 46 countries this year.

All this is an indicator of how much the event profits IMG, the multinational event coordinators who took over the reins of Spengler Cup in 2007.

HC Davos, the historic hosts of the tournament, earn over SFr2 million ($1.8 million) a year of the total undisclosed turnover - nearly one fifth of the operating budget.

Without this substantial windfall, Davos could not compete alongside the elite of Swiss hockey and would be even less likely to lay claim to the title of Swiss champions, which the team have won 18 times, most recently in 2007.

Team politics

The money raised allows Davos to hire and retain many exceptional players such as Reto von Arx, Michael Riesen and Andres Ambühl.

To strengthen their defence, the club recently enrolled the services of Beat Forster, one of the best players in the league. The club was quick to pay the nearly SFr1 million fee for breaking Forster's contract with Zurich's ZSC Lions.

But this is an unusual practice in Swiss hockey and one that has aroused the anger of the Zurich club.

"The national league is the only league in the world that stops between Christmas and New Year," said Peter Zahner, the Lions boss.

"The clubs forsake a lot of money then. And what does HC Davos do at that time? It collects more than SFr2 million in order to buy our best players."

The Zurich club is calling for the reintroduction of two days of championship games during the end of year holidays.

"These discussions happen every year," said Fredy Pargäzi, the Spengler Cup director.

"I understand the emotion surrounding the Forster case but I think this whole story will die down again after the Spengler Cup. Zurich is not the only team in the championship and I do not think other clubs share their views."

Exactly what do the other clubs think? Pargäzi admits he has yet to begin real bilateral talks. But in the press, some club bosses, such as Peter Jaks, president of Ambri-Piotta, are quick to follow Zurich's reasoning and advocate the return of championship matches during the holiday season.

Other clubs, such as Bern and Geneva-Servette, are more cautious. But then both teams are among the potential candidates to participate in the Spengler Cup in 2010, when the tournament changes its formula to include six teams instead of five.

Rebellion

The moment of truth for Davos bosses will be in 2011, when the clubs have to negotiate the renewal of television rights for both the championship and the Spengler Cup with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. An alliance of clubs against Davos could spell the end of the tournament.

This internal rebellion in Switzerland is not the only concern for the tournament officials. In recent years, major teams from around the continent have objected to travelling to Davos because of their very busy schedules.

The new Champions Hockey League, held this year for the first time, has further complicated the situation.

Pargäzi is aware of the challenges ahead but remains confident.

"HC Davos is too important in the landscape of Swiss hockey for other clubs to want to see it disappear. And everyone knows that without a Spengler Cup, the HC Davos would no longer exist."

swissinfo, based on an article in French by Samuel Jaberg in Davos

The Spengler Cup

The Spengler Cup, first awarded in 1923, is the oldest tournament between ice hockey clubs in Europe.

It was founded by Davos local Carl Spengler, who was eager to resume dialogue between nations at the end of the First World War.

The competition is held in Davos annually between December 26-31. Entry to the tournament is by invitation.

With its SFr8.2 million budget, the Spengler Cup is the second largest sporting event in Switzerland after the Davidoff tennis tournament.

In its 82 years, more than 100 clubs from 18 countries have taken part. HC Davos has won the trophy 14 times and is the most successful club in the competition.

There were a record number of spectators in 2002, when 84,480 fans attended the 11 games.

In addition to Team Canada and HC Davos, regulars at the competition, Karlovy Vary of the Czech Republic, Ingolstadt of Germany and Dynamo Moscow of Russia also took part in the 2008 Spengler Cup.

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The 2008 winners

Dynamo Moscow won the 82nd Spengler Cup after defeating favourites Team Canada.

The Russian team beat the defending champions 5-3 in the final game at the Vaillant Arena on Wednesday.

Around 6,700 spectators watched the sold-out match, in which Dynamo's Petr Cajanek scored three goals and teammates Ivan Nepryaev and Maxim Pestushko added another two.

The game was dominated in the first two periods by the Russian team who kept up an intense level of play throughout. Team Canada came back in the third period and were close to equalizing.

It is Dynamo's first victory in the tournament in 25 years, while the Canadian team have won the cup 11 times.

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