ISSN 2330-717X

FIFA Backing For ‘Illegal’ Match Angers Kosovo Football Chief

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By Perparim Isufi

The Kosovo Football Federation, FFK, has expressed fury over a letter from the world football body FIFA, calling on it to lift a ban on a planned match that it insists is “illegal” in the Serb-run north of Kosovo.

The KFF does not want the top Serbian team Belgrade Red Star playing an unregistered team in northern Kosovo, saying that an unauthorised match must not be played on Kosovo’s territory.

Much to its disappointment, however, FIFA has written to the FFK, saying it “encourages” the FFK to lift the ban.

A draw for the Cup of Serbia saw the well-known Belgrade team due to play Trepca, a team based in the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica. The FFK calls the unregistered team “illegal”.

The match was due to go ahead on September 25 but has been put on hold. The FIFA letter hinted that it had been rescheduled for October 5.

“In the interest of football, we would like to encourage the FFK to withdraw the request made to the Kosovo Security Institutions [to stop the game] so that the match can take place on October 5,” the letter signed by the FIFA Deputy Secretary general, Mattias Grafstrom, said.

FFK Secretary General Eroll Salihu condemned the request, suggesting that the wider context had not been understood. “It is more a political than a sporting issue, so this letter is absurd,” Salihu told Radio Free Europe on Friday.

He also insisted the matter was for UEFA and not FIFA to decide. “We sent an explanatory letter to UEFA and not to FIFA because UEFA is competent

[on this matter]

, he recalled.

“We just informed FIFA, and it seems that an unexperienced official said that they would encourage it [the match],” he said.

He added that, as a full member of FIFA, the FFK was “the sole authority to organise matches within Kosovo’s territory”.

Sport and politics often overlap in Kosovo, mainly because Serbia refuses to recognise the independence of the former Serbian province, proclaimed with Western support in 2008. As a result, the Serb-run far north of Kosovo tends not to acknowledge the existence of the Kosovo government.

In May 2018, the KFF rejected a request by Belgrade Red Star to play a humanitarian match in the mainly Kosovo Serb town of Gracanica, saying visiting fans had abused the country’s hospitality the previous year by shouting anti-Kosovo slogans.

“For two years we gave permission for the match, but this year we will not because at the last game things happened that do not belong to sport,” the late FFK President, Fadil Vokrri, said at the time.

“There were offensive messages and that’s why we have rejected Red Star’s request. We have also informed UEFA that there will be no match,” he added.

The May 2017 match saw the players visit the nearby Serbian Orthodox monastery at Gracanica. But Vokrri told the media that what riled the FKK was the sound of Serbian fans cheering: “Kosovo is Serbia!” at the game.

In March, Belgrade cancelled a planned match between the women’s junior handball teams from Serbia and Kosovo amid rising tensions and fears of clashes between Serbian fans and police.

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The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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