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NEUCHATEL

Neuchâtel struggles with ‘orphan’ stadium

Five years after it was built as part of a 200-million-franc ($214-million) complex, Neuchâtel’s football stadium is without a major tenant.

Neuchâtel struggles with 'orphan' stadium
Neuchâtel's La Maladière football stadium (Photo: Sandstein)

The stands of the stadium, designed to accommodate 12,000 fans, have remained largely empty since the city’s Xamax football club went bankrupt in January, 100 years after it was founded.

The club was kicked out of the Swiss Super League and demoted to amateur leagues, leaving the Maladière stadium without a raison d’être.

Now, a proposed merger of Xamax with Biel FC, a team playing in the second-tier Challenge League, is being touted as a way to fill seats.

“It remains a magnificent structure that suffers from not having a top-notch team,” Thomas Facchinetti, city councillor in charge of sports, told Le Temps newspaper, which devoted a report to the “orphan stadium”.

Facchinetti inherited the problem of what to do with the stadium when he was elected in May, several months after Xamax’s financial problems came to a head.

He said Biel, which already plays its home games at La Maladière because its former stadium is no longer usable, has not ruled out the possibility of a merger with Xamax.

The Neuchâtel team’s problems are blamed on Chechen businessman Bulat Chagaev, who bought a controlling share in Xamax in the spring of 2011.

Chagaev was later accused of fraud and his unusual management style — involving multiple sackings of players and staff — came in for heaps of criticism from the local media.

The gleaming new stadium was built with the support and active involvement of Swiss Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Burkhalter when he was a Neuchâtel city councillor.

Burkhalter was so enamoured of the project he wrote a book about it whose title in English is “La Maladière, a feeling of eternity”.

The book, published in 2007, recalls Burkhalter’s memories as a young “sporty type” who was fascinated by the exploits of the Xamax team, which once famously beat Real Madrid in a 1986 UEFA Cup game before 25,000 delirious Neuchâtel fans.

It also relates how the stadium project met the needs of a team without a proper venue for its fans.

The building indeed meets a number of other needs, housing a shopping centre, as well as parking for 900 cars, a fire station, an emergency services facility and a gymnastics centre for use by local schools.

According to the report from Le Temps, few people in Neuchâtel are outwardly regretting the construction of the complex, financed through a public-private partnership.

And the football pitch in the middle of the stadium is getting plenty of use as a training ground and for amateur matches.

But Biel FC is the only professional team using it.

The stadium, which costs a million francs annually to maintain, collects 60,000 francs a year from the Biel club, in place of the 350,000 francs a year it billed the Xamax team when it was in the Super League.

Because of its proximity to a residential neighbourhood and a hospital it is not practical to stage concerts there.

The idea of merging with Biel may be a climb-down, but the idea appears to be gaining support.

Neuchâtel's city council is set to discuss what is to become of the stadium at an upcoming meeting.

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GENEVA

Cafés and restaurants in most of French-speaking Switzerland to re-open on December 10th

Nearly four weeks after closing down, bars and restaurants in five of Switzerland’s six French-speaking regions will be back in business as of December 10th.

Cafés and restaurants in most of French-speaking Switzerland to re-open on December 10th
A waiter wearing a protective face mask poses in the nearly empty restaurant "Le Lyrique cafe brasserie" in Geneva. AFP

In a joint press release, Geneva, Vaud, Neuchâtel, Fribourg, and Jura announced on Wednesday that the decision to re-open restaurants and cafés “was made in a concerted manner and with a desire for harmonisation and clarity” among the neighbouring regions.

Of the French-speaking cantons, only Valais restaurants will remain shut, as the canton had extended its closures until December 13th.

Authorities noted that the decision to re-open was driven by the steadily declining coronavirus infection rates in the regions, which until the first week of November had been among the most impacted in Switzerland.

Cantonal officials said that the re-opening “will take place in a strict health framework. It will be mandatory to consume seated and provide contact details for tracing. There can only up to four people per table.”

Tables must be at least 1.5 metres apart and masks must be worn if customers are not seated.

Additionally, establishments must remain closed between 11 pm. and 6 am, in accordance with federal rules.

Authorities said they would monitor “for the possible effects of the re-opening on the pandemic. This means the decision can be revoked if the health situation requires it”.

In Vaud, electric heaters will be allowed outside the restaurants to encourage customers to eat outdoors.

READ MORE: IN NUMBERS: Reasons to be optimistic about the coronavirus situation in Switzerland 

Other measures will also be lifted

For instance, in Vaud museums will re-open on December 1st, and religious services will resume with a maximum of 30 people. They will have to wear masks and keep the 1.5-metre distance.

Also in Vaud, more relaxed measures will be put in place for the holidays: from December 18th to January 3rd, the limit for gatherings will be raised from five to 10 people.

However, participation in other public or private events will remain limited to five people.

In Geneva, the Council of State announced on Wednesday that museums, exhibition halls and libraries will be open from November 28th.

This new relaxation comes after hairdressers, beauticians and other wellness services resumed their activities on Saturday.

Until then, all non-essential businesses in Geneva had been shut down since the beginning of November to curb the canton’s alarmingly high contamination rate. 

You can see the situation in other Swiss cantons here.

 

 

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