Lucerne, September 11, 2012. The Swissporarena is filled with Albanian and Kosovar football fans - twice as many as the home supporters - for the World Cup qualifier between Switzerland and Albania. Three players, the white cross of Switzerland on their chests, remain silent during the confederate anthem. One of them, Xherdan Shaqiri, has three flags embroidered on his shoes: Switzerland, Albania and Kosovo. Shaqiri himself will score in the 23rd minute of the game, won by the Swiss 2-0 and recounted on the New York Times by James Montague.

Shaqiri and his two team-mates, Granit Xhaka and Valon Behrami, are among the 300,000 Kosovar Albanians (a sixth of the population of the Balcanic nation nowadays) who sought refuge in Switzerland during the nineties. For them, Switzerland – Albania is a significant fixture, played the day after their country reached full sovereignty. Moreover, the match was played as Kosovo waited for a crucial decision on behalf of the FIFA Executive Committee.

The Federata e Futbollit e Kosovës (FFK) – led by Fadil Vokrri, the only Kosovar ever to wear the jersey of the Yugoslavian National team – has been engaged in a lengthy battle in order to allow its national team and its clubs to play friendly matches against FIFA members. The decision was postponed for the umpteenth time by FIFA, which declared the dossier on Kosovo will be finalised at the next meeting of the Executive Committee in Tokyo on December 14.  According to the Swiss RSI, FIFA denied considering the issuing of exceptional authorisations to represent Kosovo to players who have already represented another country at national level. The nation, which boasts also a well-structured basketball federation, doesn’t have a National Olympic Committee affiliated to the IOC; during the London Olympics judoka Majlinda Kelmendi was forced to compete under the flag of Albania.

On September 10th, four and a half years after its unilateral declaration of independence, Kosovo reached full formal sovereignty. A sovereignty which, however, remains controversial and seems not to be yet firmly in the hands of the government of Hashim Thaçi which still struggles to control the area north of the Ibar River in the district of Kosovska Mitrovica, an ethnic Serbian majority zone where low wages, high taxes, unemployment, endemic organised crime and corruption are the main issues. Another issue for the Government is the charge of trafficking the organs of Serbian war prisoners against the UÇK (Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës, Kosovo Liberation Army). Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi has been a UÇK leader and the organisation is regarded as a terrorist group by the UN Security Council resolution 1160. The nation – a former autonomous country within Tito’s Yugoslavia which saw its autonomous status revoked by Slobodan Milošević – has been recognised by 91 of the 193 UN member countries. Serbia still claims Kosovo’s territory as its own.

The FFK first fielded a national team on February 14, 1993; Kosovo made its debut in Tirana against its “sister” Albania and, under the guidance of coach Edmond Rugova, was able to beat a team who had taken part in a World Cup, Saudi Arabia. The FFK also organise a national league, the Superliga e Kosovës, sponsored by the important bank group Raiffeisen, a strong presence throughout the Balkans and Eastern Europe. The latest edition was won by Priština. This was the ninth title for them since the team left the Yugoslavian league system and the third since the declaration of independence made on February 17th, 2008. The champions were crowned after winning at the Riza Lushta stadium in Kosovska Mitrovica, home to their direct opponents Trepça ’89.  At the time FIFA had given – and then withdrawn under pressure from the Serbian FA and UEFA president Michel Platini – permission to the FFK to stage friendly matches. Last week, as the wait for the Executive Committee’s decision grew and then faded into the umpteenth disappointing postponement, Trepça ’89 got its revenge by winning 2-1 in Priština and leaping over their opponents to the top of the league after six matches.

The Kosovo decision wasn’t observed with attention only by Priština, Mitrovica and Belgrade, but –according to James Dorsey on his blog Mideast Soccer – also from Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan. Even though the Kosovar case might represent an interesting precedent, the Kurds would face an even more complicated situation. Kurdistan, unlike Kosovo, hasn’t any kind of international recognition and isn’t part to any international organisation (Kosovo is part of the World Bank and the IMF). The relationship with the Iraqi federation has strained, although Erbil SC won the last Iraqi Premier League. During the month of June the Kurdish federation had hosted the fifth edition of theVIVA World Cup, the World Cup for nations without FIFA affiliation, winning 2-1 in the final against Northern Cyprus.

Read more from Damiano at Dinamo Babel.

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AuthorDamiano Benzoni