By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Kosovar authorities have blocked a soccer team from neighboring Serbia from entering the country to play a match against a local Serb-led team, as political and ethnic troubles in the Balkans continue to spill over into the sports world.
Tensions rose at a border crossing in northern Kosovo near the Serbian village of Rudnica on October 9 as fans of the Red Star Belgrade soccer team watched authorities prevent the team’s bus from crossing into Kosovo.
Authorities in Pristina have asserted that the scheduling of the match within Kosovo’s territory represented a political provocation by Serbia.
Erol Salihu, secretary-general of the Football Association of Kosovo (FSK), echoed those sentiments, telling RFE/RL that playing an official match between Serbian clubs in Kosovo was a “pure provocation” and a violation of UEFA and FIFA statutes.
Red Star Belgrade was scheduled to play the Serbian FA Cup match against the Trepca squad on October 9 in a northern Kosovo region mainly populated by ethnic Serbs.
The Belgrade soccer team’s delegation was informed by Kosovar police that the match was canceled and the bus was turned back to Serbia.
According to the Red Star Belgrade website, the match has been rescheduled to take place on October 10 in Serbian territory in the town of Stara Pazova, north of Belgrade.
Angry Serbian officials asked soccer governing bodies UEFA and FIFA to ban Kosovo from their associations.
“The match between host Trepca and Belgrade’s Red Star was to be played in accordance with UEFA and FIFA regulations, so today, Pristina, with this aggressive political act, has struck out at the foundations of European and world sport and the values of peace and cooperation which they promote,” said Marko Djuric, director of the Serbian government’s office for Kosovo.
Ethnic Albanian-dominated Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, an action recognized by more than 110 states but not by others, including five EU members, as well as Serbia, Russia, and China.
European Union-sponsored talks aimed at normalizing ties between Pristina and Belgrade have stalled over lingering hostilities between ethnic Albanians and Serbs.
There are an estimated 150,000 ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, many in the northern part of the Western Balkan country.