Tuesday, 3 August 2010

FIFA membership a decade away for Kosovo warns ex-manager

This story has also been published by When Saturday Comes

In the last week, football in Kosovo – Europe's newest country – should have received a real fillip after tacit acknowledgement by FIFA and the United Nations. Football's world body agreed to regulate the sale of players from Kosovan clubs even though the Football Federation of Kosovo (FFK) is not a member, while the UN's highest court ruled that the country's declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008 did not break international law.

International transfer certificates will be issued for Kosovan players, a move welcomed by the country's clubs, who are losing players without transfer fees. But another FFK plea, to play international friendlies, was rejected as the world body underlined the lack of recognition. "The FFK recognises that from [this] agreement there is nothing from which a favourable view of its wish to join FIFA and UEFA can be inferred," said FIFA in a statement.

The FFK cannot join UEFA or FIFA until full statehood and membership of the UN is secured. So far 69 countries, including the US and most of the European Union, consider Kosovo a country. Spain are among several European countries who do not, along with Cyprus, Greece, Romania and Slovakia. All of these states have internal issues, such as the breakaway Turkish state of Northern Cyprus and the predominantly Hungarian-speaking areas seeking greater autonomy within Romania; recognising the Kosovans would only fuel their own problems.

"Qualifiers for Euro 2012 begin in September and Kosovo will not participate," says former Kosovo manager Edmond Rugova (pictured). "Time is going by and the youth of Kosovo is being ignored and discriminated against. Who would have thought that this was going to continue even when Kosovo [was an] independent and democratic country?" Rugova, a former Yugoslav youth international and later a striker for New York Cosmos in the NASL, returned from the US to take charge of Kosovo.

Struggling to find fixtures, Rugova focused on holding training camps for young Kosovans who had fled his country during the 1999 war with Serbia. At a camp in Basel in 2008, Rugova came across a talented 16-year-old striker called Xherdan Shaqiri. To the surprise of many Swiss fans, Shaqiri joined two other exiled Kosovans – Valon Behrami of West Ham and FC Nuremburg's Albert Bunjaku – in Ottmar Hitzfeld's squad that went to this summer's World Cup.

Discouraged by the stasis that Kosovo's footballers have been left in, Rugova has returned to the US and does not expect any change until the opposition from Serbia, Russia, China and Spain is overcome. "Kosovo will have to watch Kosovar players represent other countries and wonder," says Rugova. "I said it would take at least ten years until Kosovo is recognised by FIFA, now I say it will take ten years if Kosovo is lucky."

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