GENEVA — The Swiss soccer club FC Sion was docked 36 points for using ineligible players, a move prompted by FIFA and derided by the team as a "cowardly act."
The Swiss league said Friday it punished the club in response to FIFA's threat to suspend Switzerland from international soccer.
FIFA demanded that Sion be penalized three points for every game in which ineligible players were fielded during the current season. World's soccer governing body said failure to do so by Jan. 14 would result in Swiss teams, including FC Basel, being banned from international play.
Basel is to meet Bayern Munich in the Champions League round of 16 on Feb. 22, a rare foray into the upper echelons of European soccer for a club from Switzerland. Had Basel been thrown out, Manchester United, the club it beat to take second place in Group C, may have been reinstated.
Sion said it intends to fight the decision, which put it at the bottom of the league with minus five points. The club accused the Swiss federation of caving to pressure from FIFA and acting against its own statutes.
Sion filed a criminal complaint Thursday against members of FIFA's executive committee, accusing them of blackmail and a breach of rules. The points deduction may be challenged at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
FIFA had given the Swiss Football Association until Jan. 13 to discipline Sion or face suspension. The dispute began in 2009 when FIFA imposed a one-year transfer ban on the club for illegally signing goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary.
Sion, which ignored the transfer embargo and signed six players in the offseason, has contested FIFA's ruling in the courts despite facing increasingly harsh penalties from soccer authorities.
The Swiss federation said in a statement that it "demanded from FIFA confirmation that the suspension will not now come into effect." FIFA said it took note of the Swiss league's action and would consider it at a meeting in early January.
The penalty for Sion falls short of FIFA's demand to give the club 3-0 losses. That would automatically have resulted in opposing teams gaining points deducted from Sion. Sion may continue to play in the country's cup competition.