FC Sion 'do not regret' Song dismissal despite Fifa case

By Peter MusembiBBC Sport Africa
FC Sion's home Tourbillon Stadium
FC Sion says it was the first club in the world to dismiss players because of the coronavirus pandemic

Swiss club FC Sion says it does not regret the dismissal of nine players for rejecting a pay-cut amidst the coronavirus pandemic, even though three have since taken their case to Fifa.

Last month, the Swiss side terminated the contracts of players including Cameroon's Alex Song and Ivorians Seydou Doumbia and Xavier Kouassi, the club captain.

Song and two unnamed players registered a case of unfair dismissal with Fifa on 25 March, one week after learning of their dismissal.

"We do not regret the decision," FC Sion's Head of Media Tim Guillemin said. "Sion was the first club in the world to dismiss players because of coronavirus.

"It is because we understand the gravity of the situation. We are aware of the catastrophe the world is faced with. Maybe these players are not," Guillemin told BBC Sport Africa.

Song is one of four Africans recently sacked by the club, with fellow Cameroonian Christian Zock making up the quartet, but it is unclear which two players have joined him in taking the case to football's world governing body.

His lawyer, Lucien Valloni, said only three have taken a case to Fifa, as they are registered as foreign players, while the rest of the nine will seek redress from Swiss domestic courts should they pursue such a claim.

On 17 March, Sion club president Christian Constantin asked staff to accept salary cuts to ease the financial burden brought about by a lack of match-day income following the Swiss league's suspension due to the outbreak.

In addition to a 20% salary cut, Constantin also wanted the players to sign a document accepting a monthly cap of 12,000 Euros maximum for the highest-paid player.

Concerned by this, the players were also unhappy with what they said was a short deadline to accept the deal.

Having been informed by WhatsApp on Tuesday 17 March, the deadline to accept the proposed cuts was midday the following day.

"I could not sign it (as) we didn't have any discussions," former Cameroon international Song told French radio station RMC last month.

"We decided together not to sign this document. We wanted to talk."

Alex Song, Cameroon
Song played for Cameroon for nearly a decade, before leaving international football in 2015

Valloni says the club had initially intended to force all staff to accept partial employment and pay-cut only to learn they would be required by law to put in place some social arrangement if there are more than nine affected staff.

"That is why they opted to target the nine highest-paid first-team players for dismissal," said Valloni, who is also president of the Swiss footballers' association.

After the nine players refused to agree to the demands, saying they needed more time, they were sacked.

"Rejecting proposal for partial employment and salary reduction at a time like this was sufficient case for dismissal," said Guillemin.

Legal Dispute

Valloni believes Sion's request to the 32-year-old midfielder and his colleagues to accept both a pay-cut and reduced income sought 'a consent that was not legally possible in the Swiss law at the time'.

Guillemin insists the argument has been superseded by a new law allowing employers to apply partial employment and salary cuts during the pandemic, which became effective three days after the players' dismissal.

Valloni, who says the case at Fifa could take up to seven months, believes his client has a claim given that the new law, which was passed on 20 March, was not in place when the players were dismissed.

All nine are free to join new clubs, even if the ongoing coronavirus outbreak makes this difficult.

Guillemin also claimed some among the nine had had a change of heart after initially refusing to accept the club's request.

"Some among the nine players changed their minds and attempted to re-join by accepting the new conditions, but Sion rejected their request," he said.

Sion club captain Xavier Kouassi
Sion's Cameroonian club captain Xavier Kouassi is among the nine players dismissed

"It took me one minute to accept partial employment and reduced salary. Why does anyone need more than 24 hours to make such a decision?"

In his conversation with RMC, Song said he had not committed any professional mistake warranting dismissal.

He also said it was not his responsibility to handle contractual matters, suggesting the club ought to have given sufficient notice that could have enabled the involvement of agents.

"I am a footballer," he said. "It is not my job. There are people to verify that."

Apart from the four African players, the others sacked by Sion are Song's former Arsenal team-mate Johan Djourou, Pajtim Kassami, Ermir Lenjani, Birana Ndoye and Mikael Facchinetti.

Song joined Sion in August 2018 on a free transfer from Russia's Rubin Kazan, after previous spells in England, most notably with Arsenal, in Spain, where he won La Liga in 2013 with Barcelona, and in France.

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