Austrian soccer team pushed out of first place for violating social distancing rules

Jack BaerWriter
Yahoo Sports

The top team in the Austrian Bundesliga has been docked enough points to fall out of first place after admitting it held illegal practices that broke social distancing guidelines, according to Goal.com.

LASK was reportedly docked 12 points by the Bundesliga and fined €75,000 for holding four full-contact practices despite clubs only being cleared to play in small groups.

The Austrian Bundesliga is split into a regular season, with a traditional 12-team table, and a championship round, where the top six teams play their own separate table from the bottom six. LASK (short for Linzer Athletik-Sport-Klub) finished the regular season six points above second-place Red Bull Salzburg, but starts the championship round on June 3 in second place due to the punishment.

LASK hasn’t won a top-flight title since 1965 and will reportedly appeal the decision.

The penalty comes after a lengthy back-and-forth between LASK, the Bundesliga and the teams that banded together to levy the accusation at the league leader, with video that was possibly obtained illegally.

Austrian Bundesliga’s Spygate-esque drama

The drama in the Astrian Bundesliga reportedly kicked off when all 11 of the other teams in the league released a statement accusing LASK of violating social distancing rules with the practices and gaining an unfair advantage.

Per Goal.com, that accusation was supported by video evidence of the training sessions that was sent to the Bundesliga. Police had also reportedly been called to the club’s training ground after receiving complaints of social distancing violations.

How did the clubs obtain that incriminating video, you might ask? Well, before the other clubs accused it of cheating, LASK had reportedly released a statement claiming to be victims of “industrial espionage.”

The club released a picture of two hooded men allegedly trespassing on its grounds, claiming the suspects had installed illegal surveillance cameras at its Raiffeisen Arena. It also claimed this was the second such incident to happen recently.

So we now have a league in which the 11 teams somehow came across videos of illegal practices likely obtained via illegal surveillance cameras.

(Left to right) Alexander Schlager, Dominik Frieser, Philipp Wiesinger and LASK were punished for breaking social distancing guidelines. (Photo by Johann Schwarz/SEPA.Media /Getty Images)
(Left to right) Alexander Schlager, Dominik Frieser, Philipp Wiesinger and LASK were punished for breaking social distancing guidelines. (Photo by Johann Schwarz/SEPA.Media /Getty Images)

LASK: We didn’t want an advantage, just exercise

LASK would later apologize for holding the practices, and used some interesting logic to justify its illegal practices.

LASK vice president Jurgen Werner and head coach Valerien Ismael’s explanation for bringing all its players together, via Goal.com:

“We didn’t want to give ourselves an advantage, we wanted to look at the health of the players. Players have been tested and followed all hygiene measures. Because of the situation, we tried to make sure the players were fit. The arrow was shot, but it was stupid.”

Ismael added: “We did not endanger anyone. It was just four training sessions in which we wanted to step things up. It was a mistake. We didn't want to give ourselves a head start.”

Whether or not the added exercise was an advantage, LASK now finds itself down three points to Salzburg, helmed by American manager Jesse Marsch, with 10 domestic matches to play in the season.

The penalty complicates what had been a classic soccer Cinderella story. Just eight years ago, LASK had been relegated to Austria’s third division and faced potential bankruptcy. Before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the season, it had found itself on track for its first top-flight title in more than five decades.

Now, RB Salzburg, winners of the last six Austrian Bundesliga championships and 10 of the last 13, are back in the lead.

We’ll have to wait and see if LASK can make up that ground, though we can be sure they will be attempting to do so with a massive chip on their shoulder.

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