By Marco Keller
For FC Sion, the 2003/04 season finally began yesterday as they opened their Swiss Challenge League campaign three months after their rivals. That they started with a 1-0 home win against FC Bulle was certainly cause for celebration but a more significant victory had come 24 hours earlier in the courts.
It was only on Tuesday that Sion won the right to play in the Swiss second tier after a long-running legal battle. Relegated from the top flight in 2002 due to their debts, their financial troubles meant they were initially refused a licence to play in the Challenge League.
That decision was made on 30 April this year by Swiss football's licensing commission. Sion's subsequent appeal was rejected on 4 June but this was by no means the last of it. Indeed in recent months Sion have seen more action in the court room than on the football pitch.
On 11 July the arbitration court of the Swiss Football Association (SFV) cancelled the first decision of the appeal commission, only for the same commission to deny Sion a licence for a second time later that month.
In a further blow, the second arbitration court of the SFV backed this decision on 29 August, only to subsequently overturn it on 3 October. Finally, it was the highest Swiss court, the Bundesgericht, which decided in their favour on Tuesday, to reward the efforts of Sion president Christian Constantin
The federal court, satisfied that the club's debts of around €400,000 could be managed, declined the request of the Swiss Football League (SFL) for the postponement of a regional court order on 21 October that Sion should be admitted to the league within eight days.
Hence Sion were able to kick off their campaign by beating Bulle in front of 9,200 supporters at the Tourbillon, the goal scored in the third minute by player-coach Didier Tholot, but it is far from clear what will happen next. The court only decided at the last minute to lower the guarantee they needed from €820,000 to the €400,000 put up by Constantin, who also plans to sue the SFL for his club's exclusion from the Swiss Cup.
On the playing side Constantin has promised new faces will arrive to bolster the squad and the sooner the better as Sion have some catching up to do before the winter break, which will not begin until 14 December, two weeks later than scheduled. Tholot's team have 12 games to play in that time - a tough schedule but for Sion they are relieved just to be playing at all.
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