Culture & Sport

A vote may ban pesticides in Switzerland, and impact football pitch

A citizen initiative mostly targeting food and agricultural products may ban synthetic fungicides in Switzerland, which could have consequences for the grass used in sports.

If approved on June 13, the initiative would ban the use of synthetic pesticides in Switzerland for agriculture, food processing, or maintenance of public and personal yards.

The popular initiative is a Swiss form of direct democracy that was introduced in 1891. Citizens can propose to change federal laws if they collect 100,000 signatures, which accounts for 1.2% of the Swiss population, in less than 18 months. Swiss vote for or against the initiative, and, if passed, would be applied despite the Federal Council and Federal Assembly’s opinions. Both entities disapproved the initiative as it would also ban imports of food produced with the use of pesticides.

The Federal council, composed of 7 members who serves as a collective head of state of Switzerland, considers the initiative as too abrupt as it would “weaken food supply produced in Switzerland and would reduce choice of imported food”.

But the law would also impact grass-based activities, like football (soccer) or golf. For elite football players, a good lawn can be essential for the game. Maintenance of the pitch prove to be a substantial costs for clubs. For example, the club of Swansea City, engaged in the 2nd best English league, spends about 30,000 pounds a year and changed its pitch for 550,000 pounds last spring. And most clubs use fungicides to kill fungus, weeds or insects that would affect the turf.

A football pitch affected by a fungus
F.C. Lorient in 2018 had to relocate a game because of the bad condition of its pitch

A French decree gives more time for French pro clubs to stop pesticides

Ultraviolet radiation is sometimes used to kill germs on the ground. But according for David Gadze, spokeperson of the FC Saint-Gall, the oldest football Swiss club engaged in the elite league, “UV rays can only kill fungus on the blade of grass, not what is underground and attacks the roots” he explained on Blick. In 2017, the FC Basel, the 2nd football club that won the most titles in Switzerland, had to completely changed its pitch because of a fungus.

Summer is can be dangerous for football grass, especially during heat waves. Along with 2018’s summer droughts, French football clubs faced a proliferation of the Magnaporthe oryzae, responsible for the Gray Leaf Spot that originally killed rice plants, which gave a yellow taint of the grass. Lorient FC, which had recently abandoned its synthetic turf for natural grass for 1.6 million euros, had to relocate a match 500 kilometres farther.

Still, France published a decree in January 2021 that bans pesticide uses in infrastructures welcoming public, which therefore encompasses football stadiums. Football fields will need to respect the law by July 2022. However, professional clubs have until 2025 to comply, mostly to avoid perturbation of sports organizations in the preparation of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

In the Swiss history, about 10% of popular initiatives are approved with no modification or parliamentary process. However, they still play a role in changing the country’s politics.

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