Austria's LASK Linz pays steep price for breaking back-to-training rules

LASK Linz's not-so-secret training session in violation of the Austrian sports ministry's social-distancing rules might end up costing it the 2020 Bundesliga title.

It was docked 12 points, dropping it out of the lead, after it was caught on tape training as a team when safety rules limited training to groups of six players. The Bundesliga also fined LASK 75,000 euros ($83,000) for breaking “the basic idea of fair play.” LASK says it will appeal.

As teams wrapped up the 22-game first stage, LASK led Red Bull Salzburg, the six-time defending champion, by six points. Teams carry half their points into the 10-game final stage so LASK dropped to second place, trailing Salzburg, Jesse Marsch's club, by three points instead of leading it by three points.

The top six teams play off for the league title and European places; the bottom six meet to avoid relegation.

Training in small groups was permitted on April 20, and full training resumed on May 15. The other 11 Bundesliga members signed a statement they had been presented with “clear video material” that showed Linz had ignored the guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

LASK managing director Andreas Protil complained his club was the victim of "industrial espionage," blaming on two men who had broken into the club’s training facility in the middle of the night and installed video surveillance cameras.

But LASK quickly apologized, saying it was safe to train as a team, which had repeatedly tested negative for the coronavirus.

The Austrian season resumes Friday with the OFB Cup final. Marsch will go for his first Austrian title when Red Bull Salzburg faces second division Austria Lustenau.

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