Epochal football draw: Kosovo kicks its way to international recognition

“Kosovo – Haiti 0:0. As I said earlier, regardless result, Kosovo won” tweeted enthusiastically on the 5th March Hashim Thaci, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, after the first intenationally-recognized match played by the Kosovar national team against the representation of Haiti. Not for the first time in the history, football was about much more than the final score.

Kick off to a better future

Taking place almost one month after the 6th anniversary of Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence in the multi-national city of Mitrovica, the match carried an important symbolical meaning. 17000 tickets were sold within a couple of hours- the politically, ethnically and religiously divided population of the youngest European country shared the eagerness to be a part of this epochal event. Meanwhile, the message sent to the international community has never been more obvious- the ostracism of Kosovo is no longer a solution. Some states such as Russia or Serbia as 5 members states of the EU firmly refuse to accept Kosovo’s independance, hindering efficently Pristina’s efforts to join the United Nations.

Organisational framework- a bittersweet compromise

800px-Flag_of_Kosovo.svgOne did not need to be a football expert to realize that the first match of the Kosovar national team was anything but ordinary. No national anthem was played and the yellow-blue flag was not displayed at the stadium. It was a part of the compromise concluded during tripartite negotiations from January 2014 between Sepp Bladder, Tomislav Karadzic and Fadil Vokrri, presiding respectively FIFA, Serbian and Kosovar football federations. Football clubs and the national representation of Kosovo are entitled to play only friendly matches against FIFA members, excluding nevertheless states of former Yougoslavia. Regarding national symbols, the strict regulations allow uniquely “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’.” What may be considered as the most peculiar regulation it that Kosovo’s matches are to be reported to FIFA, which is subsequently to inform the Football Association of Serbia. In spite of its restrictive character, the agreement between Serbian and Kosovar representatives is considered as a sign of a thaw in tense relations between these two countries, actively advocated by the European Union and the majority of the international community.

Turning point for the Kosovar sport

The meaning of this first internationally- sanctioned match goes far beyond the scope of one discipline. Sport, and above all the constitution of national teams and their presence on the supranational level, has served for many decades as a means to forge not only national identity, but also international recognition. Nevertheless, the way to go for the the newest European country is still long and winding. So far, supranational entities have fully recognized the Kosovar federations in among others minigolf, judo and sailing, whereas many others maintain Kosovo’s status as provisional or associated.  For instance, due to the non-recognition of the Tennis Federation of Kosovo, its Serbian counterpart insisted on removing the Kosovar flag form the website of the International Tennis Federation, published there on the occasion of the World Tennis Day. Finally, lacking in the UN membership, Kosovo cannot join the International Olympic Committee. “I don’t know why politics must come before everything, » said Majlinda Kelmendi, the young Kosovar judoka unabled to represent her country during the Summer Olympics in London in 2012. Nevertheless, she managed to bring glory to Kosovar sport by winning the World Judo Championship in Rio de Janeiro in August 2013.[11]

Even though the end of the match in Mitrovica was whistled over a month ago, the game is not over either for Kosovar sport nor for the young Kosovar state.

Karolina Gutowska 

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