Sam Wallace: Swiss club's uncivil action undermines Uefa


Click to follow
The Independent Online

When is it a good week for Uefa to bury Wayne Rooney? How about the same week the European governing body is led a merry dance by a small Swiss football club and their belligerent owner, who has made a mockery of Uefa's governance?

While this country was gripped by the three-game ban handed down to Rooney for Euro 2012 by Uefa, you can bet that at its headquarters in Nyon it was not that decision causing the greatest concern. Because when it comes to the case of FC Sion, the Swiss-based organisation that runs European football is akin to a chubby match-day steward trying to catch an opportunistic pitch invader.

When FC Sion had their appeal against expulsion from the Europa League rejected on 13 September, that should have been the end of it. After FC Sion eliminated Celtic in the qualifiers, it was the Scottish Premier League club who had come back into the competition at the Swiss club's expense.

But Christian Constantin (above), the owner of FC Sion and a man who does not seem to think that the rules apply to him, ignored the Uefa club agreement that disputes should be settled by Uefa tribunal. He went to the Swiss regional court of the canton of Vaud and won a judgment that his club should be reinstated and paid damages. Then he initiated criminal proceedings against Michel Platini, the Uefa president.

If there is anything likely to make Uefa sit up and take notice then it is the possibility that one of its own might find himself the subject of Swiss justice. After Uefa has been given a thorough runaround, what is most amusing is that it is FC Sion's use of Swiss civil law that has caused Uefa such problems. The precise reason Uefa and Fifa are based in Switzerland is because the country has – how to put this delicately? – never been renowned for scrutinising the affairs of big multinational institutions too closely.

In the past, its Swiss location has proved a convenient shield for Uefa. But, in the case of FC Sion, it has proved its biggest problem and, in Constantin, Uefa has met someone who is prepared to fight very dirty indeed.

The result? On Saturday afternoon, Uefa issued a pretty extraordinary statement. It said it would abide by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decision on FC Sion's case and that if CAS found in FC Sion's favour, Uefa would "reintegrate" them into this season's Europa League group stage.

Yes, you heard it right. This season's Europa League group stage in which two rounds of matches have already been played. FC Sion would be introduced as the fifth team in Celtic's group along with Atletico Madrid, Udinese and Rennes, which the Spanish team currently lead. Uefa is expected to contact the four clubs in Group I this week to discuss how that might work, in the event CAS finds in favour of FC Sion.

Put aside for a moment the background to this case, which involves FC Sion breaking a Fifa-imposed transfer ban and fielding some of those new, ineligible players against Celtic in their qualifying tie. Instead, marvel at a governing body that has got itself into a position where it is even entertaining the possibility it may have to stage a cup competition with – and this is priceless – an odd number of teams.

In its statement on Saturday, Uefa used – by its standards – strong words to condemn FC Sion for delaying CAS proceedings. Uefa said FC Sion were "clearly unjustified" and acting in "bad faith". It accused the Swiss club of having "no apparent respect" for the other clubs in Group I. But this all masked the fact that this saga has dragged on to an embarrassing degree.

Uefa is banking on CAS to rule in its favour, which the smart money says it will. In taking their case to the Swiss courts, FC Sion have abused the sporting principle behind Uefa's rules that clubs should have recourse to the same legal system. It is not as if Celtic or Stoke City could appeal to a Swiss court. Nonetheless, it says something about Uefa and its governance that it's been allowed to reach this point. What happens if FC Sion are reinstated? It opens the door for more appeals from competing clubs.

Provided CAS rules in Uefa's favour and FC Sion finally accept their expulsion, what then? The Swiss club deserve to be pursued further for breaking the agreement to settle disputes by tribunal. But, given they have not been afraid of having recourse to Swiss civil law in the past, one wonders if Uefa will balk at pursuing them further.

With the pressure mounting on Uefa from the European Club Association and the growing sense that plans are afoot for a breakaway from the biggest clubs across Europe, it is not a good time for Uefa to look weak.

For any governing body, from Uefa to Fifa, as well as the Football Association, the prospect of clubs settling football-related issues through civil courts is chilling. That scenario negates their very existence as governing bodies and is generally accepted as the route to chaos. But it is a route FC Sion have taken and, whether they win or lose at CAS this week, they have backed Uefa into a corner.

What a pity that Fabio Capello did not get resident status with that home of his in Lugano. He could have lodged papers at the regional court against Rooney's three-game ban and seen where that got the FA. It is not enough that Uefa simply wins its case in CAS, it has to have the courage to make sure that no Swiss club ever uses the FC Sion defence again.