The restart of the football season on Sunday saw Swiss clubs take to the field for the first time with no limits on the number of foreign players.This content was published on February 14, 2004 - 13:55
The Swiss Football League has been forced to change its rules to avoid contravening an agreement between Switzerland and the EU on the free movement of people.
Until recently, teams in the country’s top division – the Super League – have only been allowed to have five foreign players on their books.
But an existing agreement on the free movement of people, which came into force in June 2002, will soon enter a second phase.
As of June 1 this year, Swiss citizens will no longer have priority over EU nationals when it comes to jobs.
The change will affect all spheres of the Swiss labour market, but it poses particular problems for the sporting world, according to Piermarco Zen-Ruffinen, a professor of law and vice-president of the Swiss Football League.
“Each sports federation has its own rules which set limits on the number of foreign players,” he told swissinfo.
“If they stay in place after June 1 they will contravene the accord,” he added.
“The Swiss Football League has changed its regulations because the agreement requires players from EU countries be treated in the same way as Swiss players.
“In theory it means that a team could be made up of eight English players, three French and no Swiss.”
Zen-Ruffinen doubts whether such a scenario will ever become reality, adding that the new regulations are unlikely to have an immediate impact on the game at club level.
Many of Switzerland’s teams are strapped for cash and could simply not afford the salaries offered by top clubs in other European countries.
“Swiss clubs could never attract a top EU player because they simply don’t have the money,” he said.
“Teams will plump for that middle tier of EU players and at the same time they will continue to recruit, as they have always done, from South America and Africa.”
One danger Swiss football could face in the long term is that young home-grown talent will not get the chance to secure first team places in the domestic league.
Edmond Isoz, director of the Swiss Football League, believes it will be up to the smaller clubs, who can’t afford top EU players, to give young Swiss a chance.
“In the past we had measures in place to encourage teams to open their doors to young Swiss players,” he told swissinfo.
“But the new regulations mean that we’ll have to look at this issue again and see whether we can draw up new rules.”
Although Isoz has concerns about the lifting of restrictions on foreign players, he believes it could also bring some benefits.
“Competition for first team places will be greater and this will also force all of us – the league and the teams – to make more of an effort in training young players if we want to keep the momentum going at a national level,” he said.
Zen-Ruffinen too hopes that the opening up of the labour market will also benefit the Swiss game.
“The agreement works both ways - as well as being a chance to improve the training of young Swiss players, it’ll also give them the opportunity to play in some of Europe’s more demanding leagues,” he said.
“More European players in the Swiss league could also increase the value and skill of Swiss players.”
swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton
On June 1, 2002, the first set of bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU came into force.
They included an agreement on the free movement of people.
As of June 1, 2004, Swiss nationals will no longer have preference over EU citizens on the Swiss job market.
The Swiss football league lifted the restriction on the number of foreign players allowed in a team as of January 1.
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