BUDAPEST: After obstructive stalling from European federation UEFA, Kosovo teams have been given the all-clear by FIFA to play friendly matches against teams from member associations of the world football federation.

This follows a long campaign by the Kosovar federation to be given a little leeway by the international football commmunity while negotiations over the political status of the country continues.

“This is a great day for football in Kosovo,” said KFF president Fadil Vokkri, the former Yugoslavia international forward. ” This achievement arrived after years of hard work facing obstacles and obstruction. Today, the whole football community of Kosovo – players, clubs, officials – thanks the FIFA president, Mr Blatter, warmly for having defended the values of the universality of the game and supported the principles of the FIFA Statutes.”

FIFA’s move is a positive step to end the sport’s deadlock over the former Serb-controlled region.

Events of the 1990s left Yugoslavia in fragments. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Slovenia have all gone their own independent ways. Only Kosovo remains in limbo: recognised by more than 90 nations but not yet by the United Nations and hence not as potential membership material by UEFA and FIFA.

Vokrri and his federation have always known they had to wait on political solutions as Kosovo sought to free itself from Serb control. In the meantime they had written repeatedly to UEFA and FIFA seeking permission for club and representative teams to be allowed to play friendly games against sides from member nations.

A handful of games have been played but the Kosovo federation desperately needed for the sake of the development of the game within its own borders.

FIFA repeatedly referred its pleas to UEFA and the European federation repeatedly turned them down on the basis that Kosovo was not recognised as an independent state by the United Nations, as demanded by its statutes.

Now FIFA’s exco – of which UEFA president Michel Platini is a member – appears to have taken the law into itsown hands. UEFA’s eight represetatives on the 24-strong FIFA exco apparently abstained.

Blatter said: “For me, it’s a very important matter from the sports political point of view. We are not there to hinder to play football, we are there to open the doors to play football. I think it’s just a logical gesture and it’s also solidarity in football _ let them play.” 

“It’s very political,” said UEFA president Michel Platini who has long-time ties to Serb sports officials. “This is still contrary to the statutes of European football.” 

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke emphasized the decision to allow Kosovo to play internationally has no political meaning, saying: “It’s recognition that it’s a country where you play football. It gives them credibility. They were concerned that their players were taken away by clubs in other countries.” 

Many Kosovo-born players have settled in Sweden and Switzerland after their families fled wars that tore former Yugoslavia apart during the 1990s. Many have since played on their adopted country’s national team. One is  20-year-old Xherdan Shaqiri who joins Champions League finalists Bayern Munich from Basel next month. Valon Behrami was one of Switzerland’s star players at the 2010 World Cup. 

# # # #