Sunday, 15 November 2009

Serbs do not show up for Kosovo talks

This story is also on Play The Game

Former Kosovo manager, Edmond Rugova

Kosovo’s footballers could have to wait another decade for international recognition. That is the view of the country’s former manager after the Serbian Football Association did not take up an invitation from FIFA for tri-partite talks with the Kosovans in Zurich.

Edmond Rugova, a former Yugoslavia U-20 international and player for the New York Cosmos, said: “I knew that the Serbian FA was not going to show up. Their pretext was that, the Kosovo FA does not exist.
“FIFA's invitation for [the] Kosovo FA to come to the table in Zurich in an official capacity for the first time ever acknowledges that the Kosovo FA does exist and that something should be done. This is going to be a long and drawn out process, three to five maybe 10 years. It took 20 years to get to this point. It's going to take another who knows what.”

The 45 minute meeting in Zurich on November 5 was hosted by FIFA president Sepp Blatter and also included secretary general Jerome Valcke and Geoff Thompson, former chairman of the Football Association in England.

Kosovan player transfers
The talks were primarily to discuss the issue of Kosovan players being transferred out of clubs in the former Yugoslav republic, whose independence is so far recognized by 63 countries but not yet the United Nations.

The Football Federation of Kosovo (FFK) delegation, which included president Fadil Vokrri, secretary general, Eroll Salihu, and vice-presidents Agim Ademi and Bekim Haxhiu, were told that this was imminent.

At FIFA’s next executive committee meeting in Cape Town in December, the introduction of certificates allowing Kosovan players to be transferred internationally should be ratified, Blatter said.

“Now there is hope”
Without UN recognition, Kosovo cannot join FIFA and enter the European championship or World Cup but after the meeting Valcke told journalists that if another 30 countries recognize Kosovo’s independence then the FFK will be automatically admitted.

A two-year wait is generally needed but Valcke said that the leagues, regulations and structures were already in place.

Kosovo want to play international friendlies and to integrate their clubs into European competition. Neither were on the agenda in Zurich but Rugova, who quit his job as Kosovo’s manager earlier this year due to lack of fixtures, still believes that last week’s talks represent progress.

“The player transfer issue is a step in the right direction but the whole set of issues remain to be decided upon sometime in the future,” said Rugova, now chief executive of Kosovo’s biggest club, Prishtina FC.
“In the end this is a positive development, the door has been opened just a little bit, we'll have to wait and see how long it will take for it to open wide. In the mean time all of us in Kosovo football will have to work even harder, because now there is hope.”

Serbia declined to participate
Tomislav Karadzic, the president of the Football Association of Serbia, initially agreed to attend the talks and all an FAS spokesman would say to Play the Game about his no-show was: “The only fair way is to talk of Kosovo within Serbia.”

In a letter to Valcke, the FAS wrote: “Regarding your call to the meeting, we would like to inform you that talks on the issue have been held with all the relevant figures within the Serbian FA. According to the stances, which were expressed on the issue during the talks, we inform you that we are unable to accept the invitation for the proposed meeting.”

The Serbs do not recognize the FFK but an alternative Kosovan football association ran out of the Kosovan city of Mitrovica. After the meeting Valcke reassured the Kosovan delegation that the FFK was the only football association that FIFA represented in Kosovo.
UEFA have not been involved in the talks and a FIFA spokesperson told Play the Game: “We don't have any comments on the talks.”

A new meeting between FIFA and FFK has been arranged and will take place in Zurich on November 25.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Kosovo & Serbia FIFA talks

This story also appeared at Play The Game.

The football associations of Serbia and Kosovo will have their first official meeting in Zurich this Friday (November 5) in talks hosted by FIFA aimed at dragging the former Yugoslav republic out of sporting limbo.

Kosovo declared independence in February last year but has not been admitted into the United Nations (UN) – the key criteria for UEFA membership - after furious opposition from Serbia, which does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, and its key ally Russia.

UEFA would not comment but a FIFA spokesman confirmed the meeting and added: “The meeting will discuss some practical issues … like the transfer of players out of Kosovo need to be addressed.”

Geoff Thompson, the former chairman of the Football Association in England, will mediate between the two delegations led by Fadil Vokrri of the Football Federation of Kosovo (FFK) with Tomislav Karadjic, president of the Serbian FA, also likely to attend.

Kosovan footballers have been left in limbo with players like Lorik Cana and Valon Behrami, who play in the English Premier League for Sunderland and West Ham respectively, switching nationality in order to play international football.

“We are waiting 10 years after the war for something better, 15,000 players are waiting and a community of 200,000 people is engaged in football in Kosovo and hoping for better days,” says Driton Latifi, a journalist and sports news editor at Kosovan newspaper Daily Lajm, who is traveling to Zurich. “Our players are going abroad like emigrants and not proper transfers.”

UEFA has already indicated that if the FFK is admitted, Kosovars playing international football for other nations will be getting the chance to switch nationality in a move that could decimate the Albanian team.

Cana is one of a number of ethnic Kosovars to have played for Albania, while Behrami turns out for Switzerland and the veteran Shefki Kuqi of TuS Koblenz in Germany has appeared for Finland more than 50 times.

The FFK applied to join FIFA, which insists that the matter is only to discuss practical issues not international representation, in October 2008 but the Kosovans need to join UEFA before being admitted to the world body and were rebuffed. In March this year during a visit to the Serbian capital of Belgrade, UEFA chairman Michel Platini declared: “Politics is not my job, and UEFA honours its statute.”

Edmond Rugova, a Kosovar who moved to the US and turned out for the New York Cosmos, returned to the land of his birth in 2006 to take over as manager of Kosovo’s nascent national team.

He masterminded a 1-0 win over 2006 world cup finalists Saudi Arabia but quit earlier this year after the FFK found organizing matches difficult. Friendlies with Qatar and Benin had to be cancelled and the Kosovo national side had to sneak into Sweden in March 2009 and play as the ‘Super Liga of Kosovo Selection’ for a match with Allsvenskan side Malmo, whose squad includes exiled Kosovars, Labinot Harbuzi and Agon Mehmeti.
A weakened Kosovan side lost 5-0 and shortly after that match, Rugova returned to the US.

Albert Bunjaku, formerly the coach of Kalmar FF in Sweden, took over as Kosovo’s coach but Rugova has returned to Kosovo as chief executive of the country’s biggest club, FC Prishtina and hopeful of some progress in Zurich.

The talks are not the first time that FIFA has tried to resolve a political impasse. In September 2007, FIFA invited the football associations in the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and the Greek-dominated Republic of Cyprus together for talks.

These continued for 18 months but collapsed in April 2009, after a change in government in the enclave, which declared independence in 1982, which went largely ignored in contrast to Kosovo, whose independence has so far been accepted by 63 countries.