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‘It’s impossible’: How coronavirus has impacted Swiss professional sport

Switzerland announced Wednesday that with COVID-19 cases rising again, it was prolonging the ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people until October 1, triggering upheaval for major sports.

'It's impossible': How coronavirus has impacted Swiss professional sport
How will the pandemic continue to impact sports in Switzerland? Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The decision to extend the ban by a further month caused the immediate cancellation of the world cycling championships, while the Swiss ice hockey and football championships, desperate for spectator income, were forced to rethink the start of the season.

The Swiss government “intends to ensure that the epidemiological situation in Switzerland does not deteriorate”, it said in a statement.

READ MORE: Switzerland to allow large gatherings from October 

“This careful reopening step takes into account the needs of society and the economic interests of sports clubs and cultural venues.”

Switzerland stopped short of imposing strict confinement when it introduced measures in mid-March aimed at stopping the spread of the new coronavirus.

It began gradually easing its restrictions in stages, from April 27.

The ban on events for more than 1,000 people was due to expire on August 31 but has been extended for another month, with the government spelling out the conditions in which they could return.

“Strict protective measures will apply and the events will have to be authorised by the cantons, taking into account the local epidemiological situation and their contact-tracing capacity.”

The one-month extension triggered the cancellation of the world cycling championships, due to take place from September 20-27 in Aigle-Martigny. “Because of this, it is impossible,” said organisers, who are now considering options in other countries.

Main spectator sports rejig

The Swiss Football League said it had wanted the restriction lifted in time for the September 11 planned start of the season, “and must therefore reconsider the scheduling of the first league matches”.

The SFL is eyeing a return of supporters with no standing sections, no away fans, compulsory masks, safe capacity limits and regulated entry and exit flows.

SFL chief executive Claudius Schafer said lifting the restrictions was of “existential importance” to clubs. The Swiss Ice Hockey Federation said clubs would meet on Friday to decide when to start the season.

Matches from October with more than 1,000 spectators “is the pre-requisite for economic survival”, said a statement on the SIHF website.

“However, with the partial use of stadium capacity, the financial situation of professional clubs remains tight and losses are foreseeable.”

Nonetheless, “the joy of playing ice hockey in front of fans again prevails and we firmly believe the championship can be staged successfully and safely.”

Some 37,079 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus in Switzerland, a country of 8.5 million people, while 1,713 have lost their lives.

Daily infection rates plunged from over 1,000 in mid-March to a few dozen between mid-May and mid-June.

They have since risen, with 273 new cases announced on Wednesday — a level not seen since mid-April. Meanwhile face masks will be made mandatory on all flights in and out of Switzerland from Saturday.

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CANNABIS

UPDATE: What are Switzerland’s rules for cannabis consumption?

Switzerland has a complicated set of rules for both medical and recreational cannabis consumption. Here's what you need to know.

UPDATE: What are Switzerland's rules for cannabis consumption?

Long prohibited and seen as a gateway drug with potentially dangerous impacts, countries across the globe have begun legalising cannabis in recent years. 

While the legalisation for medical use has been widespread, there have also been successful legalisation campaigns in several countries. 

The situation in Switzerland is also in flux and has been complicated by a range of recent changes.

Whether referred to as cannabis, marijuana or hemp, Switzerland’s Narcotics Act qualifies it as “a psychoactive substance”, with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being its most intoxicating ingredient.

The law specifies that “only THC is controlled under the Narcotics Act. Other active substances like cannabidiol (CBD) are not subject to the Narcotics Act as they do not have comparable psychoactive effects”.

Here’s what you need to know. 

Switzerland has legalised medical marijuana 

As of August 1st, the use of cannabis for medical purposes will be allowed in Switzerland

Patients who are medically prescribed the drug will no longer need to seek exceptional permission from the health ministry, as was the case prior to August 1st. 

Demand for cannabis-based treatments has risen sharply, with the health ministry issuing 3,000 exceptional authorisations in 2019.

The government “intends to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use for patients” and was therefore lifting the ban on its use for that purpose, it said in a statement.

The previous procedure involved “tedious administrative procedures”, said the ministry. “Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy.”

As of August 1st, “the decision as to whether a cannabis medicinal product is to be used therapeutically will be made by the doctor together with the patient” the government wrote

The sale and consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes will remain prohibited.

READ MORE: Switzerland to lift ban on medical use cannabis

The new regulations could benefit thousands of people suffering from severe chronic pain, it added, including those with cancer and multiple sclerosis.

READ ALSO: Why Basel is about to become Switzerland’s marijuana capital

The law change will also mean that the cultivation, processing, manufacture and trade of cannabis for medical use will be subject to the Swissmedic regulatory authority, just as with other narcotics for medical use such as cocaine, methadone and morphine.

Legality of recreational cannabis is determined by the THC

THC of at least 1 percent is generally prohibited in Switzerland and use of products with this (or higher) content may be punishable by a 100-franc fine.

Of course, if someone is determined to smoke it, 100 francs may not be much a deterrent — but that’s a subject for another article.

“By contrast, possession of up to 10g of cannabis for personal use is not considered a criminal offence”, the law states, as long as it is not used by or sold to minors.

Italy's constitutional court has blocked the latest efforts to legalise cannabis.

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

And, as with nearly everything else in decentralised Switzerland, “there are still considerable differences between cantons regarding implementation of the fixed penalty procedure”.

However, “cannabis flowers intended for smoking with a high proportion of cannabidiol (CBD) and less than 1 percent THC can be sold and purchased legally”, according to the legislation. 

That’s because, unlike the THC, cannabidiol “does not have a psychoactive effect”.

In other words, low-content THC and CBD will not give the “high” that recreational users seek.

When will Switzerland legalise recreational cannabis?

Currently, small amounts of recreational cannabis are tolerated in Switzerland.

“The decisive factor for classification as a banned drug is how much THC is contained in a cannabis product. If the THC content exceeds one per cent, the product is prohibited. Hashish is prohibited regardless of its THC content.”

As noted by the Swiss government, “If you are caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis (no more than 10 grams) for your own consumption, you will not be fined. In addition, if you supply (but do not sell) up to 10 grams to an adult, e.g. when sharing joints, you will not be fined.”

“If you are caught using cannabis, you may be given a fixed penalty fine of 100 francs.”

In June 2020, the National Council approved a plan to start cannabis trials for recreational use.

The experiments are to be carried out in Switzerland’s larger cities. Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva and Zurich have all expressed interest in conducting the trials. 

The study seeks to find out how the market for cannabis works – and how to combat the black market. The social effects of legalisation will also be examined. 

At this point, no decisions have been made. However, Swiss authorities have set certain conditions in case recreational use is approved.

The National Council said if cannabis were to be legalised, it must be locally grown in Switzerland – and it must be organic. 

Health Minister Alain Berset noted that legalisation should benefit Swiss farmers even though “very few producers have experience in this area”.

READ MORE: Switzerland backs recreational cannabis trials – with one condition

Can you grow your own cannabis?

In truth, a number of people cultivate marijuana plants on their balconies or in their (secluded) gardens for their own personal use.

As it turns out, the law allows it, as long as it is a variety of the plant that does not have a narcotic effect — that is, the THC content must be less than 1 percent. 

By the same token, cannabis-based products with THC content of below 1 percent can be brought into Switzerland from abroad.

However, the import rules differ depending on the type of product  it is — flowers, seeds, extracts, oils, or other goods.

How much cannabis is consumed in Switzerland each year?

Precise numbers are hard to come by, but according to an article in Le Temps, which based its information on a medical study, about 100 tonnes are consumed in the country annually.

Cannabis remains the largest market in terms of volume: it represents 85 percent of drugs consumed in Switzerland, netting between 340, 000 and 500,000 francs per year.

READ MORE: Drugs and alcohol: Just how much do the Swiss consume?

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