By Steve Menary
17 December 2012
There was little Christmas cheer from FIFA’s executive committee (ExCo) in Tokyo for Kosovo.
Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February 2008 has been recognised by more than half of the United Nations’ members but the former Yugoslav Republic’s footballers are in limbo because the UN itself will not recognise the country due to opposition from Serbia and its ally Russia.
The Football Federation of Kosovo (FFK) needs UN recognition to join UEFA, whose president Michel Platini has refused to make any exceptions. In May this year, FIFA president Sepp Blatter over-ruled Platini and insisted that Kosovo can play international friendlies.
Blatter’s plan soon ground to a halt but after months of filibustering, FIFA has now agreed to let Kosovan teams play at youth, amateur, women’s and club level – and not full internationals.
A disappointed FFK president Fadil Vokkri said: “The FIFA ExCo decsion is an important decision because it recognizes Kosovo’s role and participation in international football. We will make the best out of it for the good of our players, teams and clubs.
“But that decision is disappointing and not fully satisfactory because it seems to exclude the top national team for unexplained reasons.
“Now the FFK will present its request for affiliation to FIFA which the logical step since now the majority of the UN member states, 97, have recognized Kosovo and because 118 of the FIFA’s 209 member associations represent countries and territories having recognized Kosovo, meeting the criteria defined in Article 10.1 of the FIFa statutes for the affiliation.”
The ludicrous decision leaves Kosovo in international limbo with little for leading Kosovan players to aspire to.
With no senior Kosovan national team, players who are eligible for Kosovo but turning out for other national teams, such as Xherdan Shaqiri of Bayern Munich and Switzerland, are unlikely to seek to change nationality.
FIFA and UEFA have both agreed that players such as Shaqiri and Lazio’s Lorik Cana, who plays for Albania, can play for Kosovo. This would not go down well with the national associations in Albania or Switzerland, who face losing a swathe of top players and the latest inexplicable decision smacks of suiting everyone else bar the isolated Kosovans.
Before the latest FIFA ExCo meeting in Tokyo, Vokrri wrote to Blatter pleading for a breakthrough.
“The decision you will take is about justice,” wrote Vokrri. “It is also about the FIFA statutes which mention the condition of the ‘recognition opf the international community’ in article 10. It is also about rewarding the football community of Kosovo and the FFK for having acted with responsibility, not applying directly for the affiliation knowing the political complications but limiting themselves to obtain the authorization to play friendly matches with whomever (sic) willing to do so.”
A senior Kosovan XI is unlikely to lack opponents. Dominica recently became the 97th country in the world to recognise Kosovo.
FIFA has 209 members and 118 of them – more than 56 per cent of the world’s football community – recognise Kosovo’s independence.
That, unfortunately for Kosovo’s footballers, is clearly not enough. Having taken a brave but sensible decision in May to support Kosovo playing international friendlies, Blatter and FIFA appear to be backtracking.
If international football is the peak of the game, then why is FIFA proving so spineless?
Steve Menary is the author of ‘Outcasts! The Lands That FIFA Forgot’. A new, revised edition of the book has been published in Kindle format (click link to see). Menary also blogs on issues dealing with the ‘Outcast’ nations (linked here).
For two years, Menary traced the incredible journeys of the teams that FIFA refuse to recognise – either for reasons of political expediency, or because FIFA just believed they could not compete with the likes of Montserrat on the world stage.
Intrigued by just why anyone would want to play for such no hoper ‘nations’, he became drawn into a scene which surprised him in its positive approach to both the beautiful game and nationalism, and eventually resulted in the FIFI (Federation of International Football Independents) ‘Wild Cup’, featuring teams from officially non-existent countries such as Zanzibar, Greenland, Tibet and Northern Cyprus, being successfully staged in Germany prior to the FIFA World Cup in 2006.
Along the way, he discovered the dentist from Greenland who risked his career to play for his ‘country’, the pitch battle amongst kit manufacturers to sponsor the Tibetan national football team and why the Gibraltan ‘national’ football team might just force an end to centuries of dispute over the rock between Britain and Spain.