Sunday, 23 December 2012

Kosovo reject FIFA friendlies offer

The Football Federation of Kosovo has rejected an offer from FIFA to play international friendlies as the deal would mean the FFK needs to get Serbian permission first.

According to the website, the FFK would need to ask Serbian permission to play games, which would need to be staged at a neutral venue and without any symbols of the Kosovan state. 

In a letter to FIFA president Sepp Blatter sent by the FFK, the Kosovan association's president Fadil Vokrri describes the offer as an “insult to an independent country recognised by 97 UN [United Nations] member states … representing 118 of the 209 FIFA member associations.”

Vokrri continues: “It is an insult to the sufferings and persecution of the Kosovo football community, which struggled during years to continue its existence and persevered to maintain its clubs, leagues and players in the harshest circumstances of segregation and violence.

“It is also the negation of the fact that in some regional meetings and talks in Brussels under the EU [European Union] auspices, Kosovo is treated as an independent state even in discussions with Serbia on bilateral issues.

“Not only the football-governing bodies are trailing behind the political realities, but such a decision by FIFA seems to submit a football-only issue to some political considerations and governmental interference.”

In the letter, Vokrri says that FIFA’s demand contradicts what he describes as previous positive discussions in Zurich between his federation and FIFA.

Kosovo declared independence on February 17 2008 but its footballers have been in limbo ever since. UEFA president Michel Platini has stuck to his body’s membership criteria and insisted that the FFK will not be admitted until Kosovo is a member of the United Nations. 

Opposition from Serbia and its ally Russia has so far stymied that and earlier this year Blatter over-ruled Platini and insisted that Kosovo be allowed to play international friendlies. Endless filibustering by the Serbs has stopped that happening and only junior, women’s, amateur and clubs form Kosovo can play sides outside the former autonomous province within the former Yugoslovia.

Senior internationals remain banned and the compromise now offered by FIFA has finally fractured the long-standing patience of the FFK.

The idea of Serbia being allowed to ‘vet’ potential games for Kosovo is ludicrous and harks back more than a century, when a suggestion was floated that Scotland – then not a member of the nascent FIFA body – would need to get permission from the only UK association then in FIFA before playing a mooted game with Denmark.

The idea of Scotland needing English permission was as ludicrous then as that of Kosovo proposing opponents to Serbia is now. The Scotland vs Denmark game never went ahead and more than two decades passed before Scotland played an international against a side outside the UK.

The prospect of Kosovo waiting another 20 years or more before playing a friendlies would be vindictive in the extreme but no Kosovan games ‘sanctioned’ by the Serbs are ever likely to be staged. 

The conditions set out by FIFA to the Kosovans also have implications for another aspiring UEFA member that is apparently banned from playing international friendlies. 

Gibraltar were made provisional members of UEFA in October with a full vote on the British colony’s membership due at the European body’s congress in London in May 2013.

Despite this, Gibraltar are apparently banned from playing full internationals (see previous posting) and the Kosovan affairs suggests that perhaps FIFA and UEFA could be considering giving Spain the right to vet senior Gibraltar friendlies.

Perhaps the solution is for Gibraltar and Kosovo to play each other in a friendly and then see what UEFA and FIFA did about it?

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Gibraltar farce


This story also appears at

Despite being a provisional member of UEFA, Gibraltar is being denied the chance to play international friendly matches due to a farcical mix-up between the European body and FIFA.

In March, the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) agreed a roadmap with UEFA that has seen teams from the British colony entered into European tournaments at Under-17 and Under-19 level and qualifiers for the 2014 Futsal championships.

The road map accorded Gibraltar provisional membership of UEFA and the GFA’s long standing application to join the European body will go to a vote at the European body’s congress in London in May 2013.

But a planned international friendly for Gibraltar in early 2013 as part of the roadmap agreed between UEFA and the GFA has come to nothing.

When questioned why this game would not now go ahead, a UEFA spokesperson said: “International friendlies are under FIFA jurisdiction. For all these matters please contact FIFA directly as they are under their jurisdiction.”

When FIFA was contacted and asked why Gibraltar was being denied the chance to play international friendlies, a FIFA spokesman said: “Currently the issue of Gibraltar playing international matches is with UEFA. Having checked internally to make sure, FIFA until today has received no such request from Gibraltar.”

The GFA declined to comment on UEFA or FIFA’s comments, but a huge swathe of other teams on the fringes of the international game regularly play matches, often against FIFA members.

Only last week Martinique and French Guiana played against FIFA members Jamaica and Cuba in the 2012 Caribbean Cup finals. Neither of the French overseas territories are members of FIFA, nor is the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, which is only an associate member of the Asian Football Confederation yet played FIFA member Guam in an international on November 24.

On March 11 2011, Gibraltar beat the Faroe Islands (a UEFA and FIFA member) 3-0 in a friendly on the Rock. 

Although Gibraltar is not expected to send a football team to the Island Games in Bermuda in 2013, should the GFA do so there is every likelihood a Rock XI would play the hosts and the Cayman Islands, both of whom are FIFA members.

Privately, the GFA must be concerned that the latest twist in an attempt to join UEFA that has been dragging on since the late 1990s is somehow connected to Kosovo’s equally controversial ambitions to play at international level.

Although 56% of FIFA’s members recognise Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic is not a member of the United Nations – UEFA’s membership criteria - so cannot join UEFA, whose president Michel Platini has appeased Serbia and Russian opposition to Kosovo’s international ambitions by sticking to the letter of that rule.

This Autumn, FIFA president Sepp Blatter over-ruled Platini and insisted that a Kosovan request to at least play international friendlies should be granted. Blatter’s ruling was belatedly and only partially acknowledged at the recent FIFA meeting in Tokyo, where Kosovan sides at junior, amateur and female level were given the chance to play internationally. So can clubs, but the senior national team remain barred.

For Gibraltar, the concern must be that UEFA is preparing plans for a two-speed membership simply to placate the likes of Spain, Serbia and Russia ahead of Platini’s expected bid to succeed Blatter when he retires in 2015.

There is furious Spanish opposition to Gibraltar’s membership, particularly from Ángel María Villar Llona, the influential head of the Spanish association, the RFEF. This could produce serious fractures in relations at the upper echelons at UEFA but Platini appears resigned to Gibraltar joining the European elite next May.

The GFA’s bid pre-dates a change to UEFA’s statutes that require all new members to be recognised by the UN. UEFA’s exclusion of Gibraltar has twice been upheld as unreasonable by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (TAS) and Spanish media reports claim that Platini recently told journalists: “We're obliged to include Gibraltar because that is what the Court of Arbitration for Sport is asking us to do"

"For that reason, we'll have to ask the Congress in London to accept the decision. That's why we don't deal with the cases of Kosovo or Catalunya. But Gibraltar's membership application predates 2001, so the rule does not apply. We now however, have TAS's ruling which obliges us to recommend Gibraltar's admittance and that is what we will have to do.”

With that in mind, UEFA’s apparent attempt to prevent Gibraltar from playing international friendlies looks both ridiculous and spiteful.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Kosovo foiled again

This story also appears at

There was little Christmas cheer from FIFA’s executive committee (ExCo) in Tokyo for Kosovo.

Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February 2008 has been recognised by more than half of the United Nations’ members but the former Yugoslav Republic’s footballers are in limbo because the UN itself will not recognise the country due to opposition from Serbia and its ally Russia.

The Football Federation of Kosovo (FFK) needs UN recognition to join UEFA, whose president Michel Platini has refused to make any exceptions. In May this year, FIFA president Sepp Blatter over-ruled Platini and insisted that Kosovo can play international friendlies.

Blatter’s plan soon ground to a halt but after months of filibustering, FIFA has now agreed to let Kosovan teams play at youth, amateur, women’s and club level – and not full internationals.

A disappointed FFK president Fadil Vokkri said: “The FIFA ExCo decsion is an important decision because it recognizes Kosovo’s role and participation in international football. We will make the best out of it for the good of our players, teams and clubs.

“But that decision is disappointing and not fully satisfactory because it seems to exclude the top national team for unexplained reasons.

“Now the FFK will present its request for affiliation to FIFA which the logical step since now the majority of the UN member states, 97, have recognized Kosovo and because 118 of the FIFA’s 209 member associations represent countries and territories having recognized Kosovo, meeting the criteria defined in Article 10.1 of the FIFa statutes for the affiliation.”

The ludicrous decision leaves Kosovo in international limbo with little for leading Kosovan players to aspire to.

With no senior Kosovan national team, players who are eligible for Kosovo but turning out for other national teams, such as Xherdan Shaqiri (pictured) of Bayern Munich and Switzerland, are unlikely to seek to change nationality.

FIFA and UEFA have both agreed that players such as Shaqiri and Lazio’s Lorik Cana, who plays for Albania, can play for Kosovo. This would not go down well with the national associations in Albania or Switzerland, who face losing a swathe of top players and the latest inexplicable decision smacks of suiting everyone else bar the isolated Kosovans.

Before the latest FIFA ExCo meeting in Tokyo, Vokrri wrote to Blatter pleading for a breakthrough.
“The decision you will take is about justice,” wrote Vokrri. “It is also about the FIFA statutes which mention the condition of the ‘recognition opf the international community’ in article 10. It is also about rewarding the football community of Kosovo and the FFK for having acted with responsibility, not applying directly for the affiliation knowing the political complications but limiting themselves to obtain the authorization to play friendly matches with whomever (sic) willing to do so.”

A senior Kosovan XI is unlikely to lack opponents. Dominica recently became the 97th country in the world to recognise Kosovo.

FIFA has 209 members and 118 of them – more than 56 per cent of the world’s football community – recognise Kosovo’s independence.

That, unfortunately for Kosovo’s footballers, is clearly not enough. Having taken a brave but sensible decision in May to support Kosovo playing international friendlies, Blatter and FIFA appear to be backtracking.

If international football is the peak of the game, then why is FIFA proving so spineless?

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Greek Cypriots to visit the North

Costakis Koutsokoumnis, the chairman of the Cypriot Football Association (CFA), will visit his counterpart at the North Cyprus football association, the CTFA, Hasan Sertoğlu (pictured) in Turkish occupied Nicosia for the very first time.

The meting between the two sides at the CTFA headquarters on January 17 2013 represents a major step forward in relations between the two sides, who met on December 11 at the CFA headquarters in Nicosia on December 11.

After the December 11 talks, Sertoğlu said: "The island has suffered thanks to politicians and our focus is only on football, not on politics. I believe that with good will we can find a resolution to this problem."

The two sides have been split since the Turkish clubs went off to form the CTFA in 1955, but Koutsokoumnis said: "The footballing community of Cyprus wants a solution to the ‘football’ problem."

The CFA chairman also said that he hoped an initial plan could be agreed between the two sides within two months.

What solution can be proposed remains to be seen as the game in the Greek dominated south of the island is far more commercially developed. Apoel were quarter-finalists in last season's Champions League - an accomplishment that earned the Cyrpiot club more than

€18 million in prize money.

Clubs in Turkish Cyprus are semi-professional at best and big games rarely draw crowds of more than a couple of thousand. 

Many Northern Cypriot fans are more interested in the big Istanbul clubs playing in the Turkish Super Lig, but the potential for larger crowds in the north was demonstrated recently when AEL Limassol hosted Fenerbahçe in a Europa League game in Nicosia.

All of Fenerbahçe's ticket allocation was taken up by fans from Northern Cyprus. More than 1,400 Northern Cypriots travelled across the Green Line that separates the two communities to watch the game in Greek Nicosia (pictured below).

A united league or a Cypriot league featuring one or two Northern Cypriot sides could stimulate similar interest as the two sides show more ability to reach a compromise in a few months than their political counterparts have managed in years.

Northern Mariana to make AFC Challenge Cup debut

The Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands have edged closer to FIFA recognition after being included in the qualifiers for the 2014 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup.

The islands, which are a member of the East Asian Football Federation and an associate member of the AFC, are one of 20 teams included in the qualifiers.

In their debut in the competition, the Northern Mariana team will face Bangaldesh, Nepal and Palestine in Group D qualifiers next year.

The Cup is a challenge competition for smaller Asian nations. The top two sides from each group plus the best two second-placed teams qualify for the finals in the Maldives. The winner of the competition will qualify for the finals of the 2015 Asian Cup, which will be staged in Australia.

Northern Mariana are unlikely to qualify but the qualifiers offer a chance for vital experience for a senior side that has so far been restricted to EAFF qualifiers and ad hoc friendlies against sides like neighbours Guam.

2012 Vatican Cup

Fortitudo 2007 have won the 2012 Coppa Vaticano. The competition has been renamed the Coppa Sergo Valci Stagione in memory of Dr Sergio Valci, the Septagenarian head of the Vatican Football Assoicatio, who passed away this Autumn.

Fortitudo 2007 (pictured above) only just squeezed into the semi-finals of the competition after finishing in fourth place in the five team group stage qualifiers with just one victory in four games.

In the two-legged semi-finals, Fortitudo 2007 faced New Hermes, a team representing the librarians in the Holy See that had won the group stage. 

Fortitudo thrashed New Hermes 4-1 on aggregate to set up a final with Pantheon 2007, who had finished second in the group stage and qualified for the final after beating telecoms team Dirseco on away goals. Neither Fortitudo 2007 nor Pantheon SD could find the net in the final. The game went to penalties with Fortitudo 2007 winning 4-3. Fortituido's striker
Fabrizio Gaudio finished the tournament as top scorer.

Saturday, 8 December 2012


A new revised edition of Outcasts! The Lands That FIFA Forgot has been published in Kindle format.

This second edition of the book includes a revised edition of the original text, which was shortlisted for the 2008 National Sporting Club football book of the year award, plus a new epilogue and extra photos.

For a free sample of Outcasts! The Lands That FIFA Forgot, click here.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Gibraltar take one more step....

This article also appears at

Spain’s threat to quit world football if forced to take part in the same tournaments as the British colony of Gibraltar has been exposed as meaningless.

After the Gibraltar Football Association applied to join UEFA in the late 1990s, the Spanish FA, the RFEF, wrote to the European body that Spain would refuse to ‘take part in, or organise, any competition in which Gibraltar participates.”

UEFA belatedly changed its statutes so that all new members are recognised as countries by the United Nations. This was done to accommodate Spain, forcing the GFA into a lengthy appeal that finally saw Gibraltar included in this week’s draws for UEFA’s futsal, Under-17 and Under-19 competitions – along with Spanish teams.

In October, Spain’s sports minister had vowed to ‘exhaust all legal means’ to stop Gibraltar securing full UEFA membership. That intimidation followed Gibraltar’s acceptance as a provisional UEFA member prior to their application going to a vote at the European body’s congress in May 2013. Spanish bluster was tested again on Tuesday with the draw for the qualifiers to the 2014 futsal European championships in Belgium.

UEFA ensured that even if Gibraltar progressed from a group featuring France, Montenegro and San Marino, there would be no possibility of a potentially embarrassing clash with Spain. If they qualify, Gibraltar go directly into a group with Italy, Hungary and Finland.

UEFA again artificially ensured that Spain would not face Gibraltar in the Under-17 qualifiers, which have thrown up an intriguing clash with England. The other sides in group seven are the Republic of Ireland and Armenia.

In the Under-19 draw, there was no need for UEFA meddling as the top seeded country gets a bye to the elite round. That happens to be Spain. Gibraltar would need to qualify from a tough group including Croatia, the Czech Republic and Cyprus to have any chance of playing their northerly neighbours.

Simply being included in the same competition as Gibraltar is humiliating for the RFEF, who now also face the prospect of Catalonia seceding if a growing move for independence succeeds. That should surely occupy the RFEF more than Gibraltar’s efforts but Spain’s sporting bodies are bound by the country’s politicians to suppress Gibraltarian attempts to assert sporting independence.

At next May’s congress in London, the GFA’s membership bid may fail as it did in Frankfurt in 2007. Then, the RFEF’s longstanding president Ángel María Villar Llona could coerce any associations sympathetic to Gibraltar’s cause with the threat of Spanish withdrawal. This week’s draw proved that threat to be nothing more than Spanish aire caliente.

What makes matters worse for Spain and UEFA is that Gibraltar are legally in the right. When the GFA first applied to UEFA, the colony was then eligible under the old rules, which had allowed the Danish controlled territory of the Faroe Islands to join a few years earlier.

Isolated by a closed border with Spain, Gibraltar wanted to emulate the Faroese, who have rarely been embarrassed since joining the international scene in 1988. UEFA’s criteria change and years of filibustering stifled that ambition.

Gibraltar have been stuck in international limbo. The only serious ‘international competition’ comes every two years in the Island Games, a tournament the Faroese won in 1989 and 1991 before focusing on senior internationals.

Gibraltar won the Island Games title in 2007 but an association that dates back to 1895 wants more for its footballers than playing together as a club in the lower Spanish leagues. That is the only offer on the table from the RFEF.

Supported by two separate rulings from the Court of Arbitration for Sport that UEFA’s exclusion of Gibraltar was akin to moving the goalposts, the colony’s footballers want better and are emboldened.

As provisional members, Gibraltar are entitled to be included in all UEFA draws right up to the vote. If Villar Llona – who will be influential in UEFA president Michel Platini’s bid to succeed Sepp Blatter as FIFA president in 2015 – again manages to spike Gibraltar’s ambitions, what happens to the colony’s teams already included in UEFA competitions?

Gibraltar will definitely compete in UEFA competition for the first time as the preliminary qualifiers for the futsal are scheduled for next month in Nice. The Under-17 and Under-19 qualifiers in Armenia and the Czech Republic respectively will be staged after the May congress. UEFA is also scheduled to play in an Under-16 development tournament in Albania a month after the vote.

Gibraltar will only take up their places in these tournaments if accepted as full members; something that not been communicated directly by UEFA to the Gibraltarians before the draws. Gibraltar’s potential opponents would appear to be wasting their time making arrangements until the UEFA Congress, but can hardly leave important details like scheduling and travel arrangements until then.

Even if Gibraltar loses the vote, the GFA will return as they have the backing of two CAS rulings over an issue that has rumbled on for 15 years and is about to come to a head.

A possible solution for UEFA is a form of junior membership. Other confederations have members that have not gone onto full FIFA membership for a whole variety of reasons. In Africa, there is Reunion and Zanzibar; in CONCACAF, the French colonies of Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guiana; in Oceania, Kiribati and Tuvalu. Martinique and French Guiana have even qualified for this weekend’s Caribbean Cup finals.

That gives these places far more options than Gibraltar had until this week. But some form of junior membership would create yet more problems for Platini, as other aspiring members from Greenland and Kosovo to Jersey and Kurdistan, would all be interested too.

No-one would surely object to helping the isolated, impoverished Greenlanders but Kosovo are already proving painful to Platini on another flank. Blatter has over-ruled his would be successor and wants Kosovo to play international friendlies. That proposal inflamed the Serbs and their Russian allies and remains in stasis.
For Platini, this week’s draws are the start of a problem that will surely only get bigger and more complicated.