A Swiss player, Palermo defender Michel Morganella, was axed from the national Olympic team squad during the London 2012 Games after making an insulting comment on Twitter following a 2-1 defeat by South Korea.
The latest row is much closer to home and was sparked by a throwaway remark from TV commentator Sascha Ruefer during Switzerland’s 2-0 win over Albania in the World Cup qualifiers last Tuesday. The match was especially sensitive because so many ethnic Albanians from the Balkans had fled to Switzerland during the years of civil war.
National coach Ottmar Hitzfeld included five players with Albanian backgrounds in his squad: Granit Xhaka, Valon Behrami, Xherdan Shaqiri, Blerim Dzemaili and Admir Mehmedi.
When Xhaka missed the opportunity to score what would have been a third Swiss goal, Ruefer said: “What was that? All he needed was to push the ball home. I’d like to see that again . . . presumably Xhaka was not unhappy at not having scored against Albania.”
Former international midfielder Hakan Yakin – who has clashed before with Ruefer – led the complaints at the comment.
He said: “That takes the biscuit. It’s a scandalous thing to say. By saying what he did Ruefer was suggesting Xhaka missed deliberately. I don’t see how Ruefer can continue as a commentator on SF.”
Veteran ex-manager Erich Vogel admitted that the comment “made me wince.”
Ruefer told the Swiss media that he accepted the comment was “a bit unfortunate” and he regretted it but denied that he had intended any slur against Xhaka or any of Switzerland’s other Albanian-linked players.
He said: “Anyone who thinks that is wrong. That’s just not right. If the score had been 0-0 I wouldn’t have said that. In that sort of context it would have been a provocative comment. But at at 2-0 for Switzerland it wasn’t going to make any difference. That’s why I could say that Xhaka probably was not unhappy that he has not scored the goal against Albania.”
Ruefer has conceded that the immigration issue was a sensitive one in the context of this match. He spent a week with the team ahead of the game and believes that all the Swiss players were well aware of the delicacy of the issue. He said: “It’s very difficult for any of us to imagine what it must be like for someone to leave their family behind in a county ravaged by civil war.”