KEIR RADNEDGE in ZURICH: Football in Kosovo took a major step forward here today when FIFA cleared its national team and clubs to play friendly matches without needing permission from the Serbs.

The move to bring Kosovo as far into the football family as possible has been pushed forcefully by FIFA president Sepp Blatter over the last two years in defiance of European federation president Michel Platini and the Serbs.

It ends a long-running stalemate in three-way talks chaired by FIFA and now allows the Kosovars to play football within the same restrictions – no national symbols etc – adoped in political talks brokered by the European Union.

The decisive latest move follow an appeal to the FIFA executive committee last month in which Kosovo federation president Fadil Vokrri has appealed for the world federation  “to offer fairness, hope and justice to the teams, clubs and players” of Kosovo.

The former Yugoslav state’s independence has been recognised by most of the European Union but not by UEFA. Hence Serbia, supported by Russia, had thrown up a series of obstacles in the way of Kosovar teams playing even ‘only’ friendly matches against sides from FIFA member associations.

The latent talent of Kosovo football has been illustrated by the contribution of its ‘players in exile’ to the Swiss team who qualified for next year’s World Cup finals and the Swedish team who finished third in the recent World Under-17 Cup.

Blatter began pushing the Kosovar case in the spring of 2012 and has held a number of talks with both sports officials and politicians of both Kosovo and Serbia while the European Union has sought to broker agreements over acceptable statehood symbols which both sides accept – known as the “asterisk” system.

Last year FIFA authorised junior Kosov teams to play friendly matches against foreign opposition but only with the permission of the Serbs. The Kosovars rejected that compromise and held out for the progress achieved here in Zurich today hours before the FIFA awards gala.

FIFA statement

FIFA Emergency Committee confirms friendly matches involving clubs and representative teams of Kosovo

Under article 83 of the FIFA Statutes, the FIFA Executive Committee has the right to authorise FIFA members to play matches against non-member associations, in this case the Football Federation of Kosovo (FFK).

Following various meetings that have taken place since 2012, the FIFA Emergency Committee has today, 13 January 2014, confirmed a set of modalities of friendly matches involving clubs and representative teams of Kosovo.

The proposal was submitted to the FIFA Emergency Committee following a meeting between the President of the Football Association of Serbia (FSS), Tomislav Karadzic, and the President of the FFK, Fadil Vokrri, held at the Home of FIFA on 10 January 2014, which was chaired by FIFA President Blatter.

The following modalities of friendly games involving clubs and representative teams of Kosovo have been approved and enter into force immediately:

– FIFA member associations are allowed to play international friendly matches with clubs and representative teams of the FFK.

– Clubs and representative teams of the FFK may not display national symbols (flags, emblems, etc.) or play national anthems. However, they are allowed to wear or display kit or equipment bearing the name ‘Kosovo’ as well as the symbol of a star of the size of the letter ‘o’ in the name ‘Kosovo’.

– Clubs and representative teams of the FFK may not play official or qualification matches while the FFK is not a member of FIFA.

– Clubs and representative teams of the FFK may not play matches against clubs and representative teams of countries of the former Yugoslavia until further notice.

– International friendly matches involving clubs and representative teams of the FFK may be played on the territory of Kosovo provided that FIFA is informed in writing at least 21 days before each match. FIFA will in turn inform the Football Association of Serbia.

– Any breach of this agreement will be referred to FIFA and the agreement will automatically come to an end.

“The decision taken by the FIFA Emergency Committee represents a major boost for football development in Kosovo and it once again confirms the extraordinary power of our sport to bring people together,” said FIFA President Blatter.