Kosovo status hinders football ambitions

Kosovo status hinders football ambitions

ELITSA VUCHEVA, 13.11.2008, euobserver

The lack of unanimous international recognition of Kosovo as an independent state is hindering Pristina's ambitions to join both UEFA, the organisation representing national football associations of Europe, and FIFA, the one governing football internationally.

Kosovo must first become a member of the United Nations, before being allowed into UEFA or FIFA, Michel Platini, the President of UEFA, said on Wednesday (12 November) during a visit in Albania, Macedonian news agency Makfax reports.

Kosovo can join neither FIFA, nor UEFA for now (Photo: European Parliament)

Mr Platini said he was aware of Kosovo's requests, as well as of the lobbying of the Albanian football federation in favour of Pristina's application, but he insisted that the organisations' rules must be respected.

Prior to Mr Platini's statements, FIFA formally rejected Pristina's application at the end of October, saying that only "an independent state recognised by the international community" could join.

It added that this means Kosovo "cannot play any friendly matches" either, according to Bulgarian weekly Sofia Echo.

The Balkans' newest state had applied for FIFA membership in May 2008 calling this "a historic moment for our country."

Following FIFA's rejection of its request for membership, Kosovo's football federation sent a letter to its Executive Committee President Joseph S. Blatter expressing "heartfelt disappointment" with the body's decision.

"FIFA's Executive Committee's decision not to allow Kosovo's National Team to play friendly matches is against FIFA mission and its principles. This decision is definitely not for "the good of the game," nor "for the good of the world," the president of the Football Federation of Kosovo (FFK) Fadil Vokrri and its secretary general Heroll Salihi wrote.

Kosovo declared unilateral independence from Serbia in February this year and has so far been recognised by 51 states worldwide. But Serbia - a UN member - has said it would never recognise the new republic and would hinder its bid to join international organisations.

Sports and politics in the Balkans

Politics has often interfered in sports in the Balkans.

In February, Greek fans brandished a big poster saying "Kosovo is Serbia" during a match between Olympiacos and Chelsea in Athens, in support of Serbia's position on Kosovo. Consequently, UEFA had threatened the team with sanctions for letting politics interfere with football.

Meanwhile, Bulgarian fans occasionally irritate their Macedonian - and more recently Greek - counterparts at football matches by shouting that "Macedonia is Bulgarian."

Many Bulgarians do not recognise Macedonians' national identity and consider them to be ethnically and linguistically the same as Bulgarians. For their part, Greeks are particularly sensitive over the use of the term "Macedonian" elsewhere than in Greece, whose northern province is called Macedonia and which has links to ancient Macedonia.

Greek opposition to the country's use of its constitutional name - Republic of Macedonia - has sometimes threatened its participation in international sports events, including this year's Olympics, while Macedonians are on the other hand increasingly irritated at their state being referred to as FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).

Bulgaria and Romania to co-host Euro 2020?

Bulgarian Football Union president Borislav Miahailov on Wednesday said Bulgaria and Romania would present a joint application to co-host the European football championship in 2020, despite the tensions.

"The year 2020 is far away but our idea needs a lot of work," he said after meeting Mr Platini in Sofia, Bulgarian daily Dnevnik reports.

According to press reports, Mr Platini has said UEFA would welcome the initiative provided that it receives consideration and support from the countries' respective governments.

It is the first time the idea of two Balkan countries co-hosting the Euro has been officially raised, but its realisation risks facing problems, notably related to bad infrastructure.

The issue is already proving to be a considerable headache for Poland and Ukraine which are set to host Euro 2012.

On Wednesday, UEFA's chief urged the two countries to speed up their efforts in that respect.

"Poland and Ukraine know that there is now a major condition [for their bid]: that the stadiums in their capitals be ready on time," Mr Platini told a press conference in Sofia.

"If the stadiums in the capitals are not built, the Euro will go neither to Kiev nor to Warsaw," he added, according to AFP.