Teams struggling to be allowed to play

Kosovo’s manager Edmond Rugova. Photo: Driton Latifi

24.04.2009

By Steve Menary
Exclusive: Play the Game has interviewed representatives from a number of national football teams who are struggling to be allowed to play. Since their country is not recognized by the UN, their teams have difficulties entering FIFA and UEFA leagues.

FIFA has abandoned attempts to reunite the football associations in the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and the Greek-dominated Republic of Cyprus have broken down after change of government in the breakaway enclave.

The Kibris Turk Futbol Federasyonu (CTFA) split from the main Cyprus Football Association (CFA) in 1955 and the two sides shunned each other until September 2007, when FIFA hosted a series of talks that failed to resolve anything but continued until the recent landslide election won in the north by the right-wing National Unity Party (NUP).

A FIFA spokesman told PTG: “For Cyprus, the FIFA Executive Committee has decided to close the file since the CTFA did not agree to sign the FIFA-UEFA proposal for football on the island of Cyprus.”

FIFA and the CFA presented an eight-point plan for the CTFA, which allowed Turkish Cypriot clubs to play overseas opposition but did not permit the Turkish Cypriot ‘national’ team to play internationals.

The CTFA would not sign the plan but the two sides kept on talking until the recent elections.

A source close to the talks said: “Unfortunately there is no contact either with FIFA or with CFA. Everything [has] returned to the beginning. I can't say there will be any contact nowadays due to the change of political party in government. The old government has come back and we don't know what their new vision is.”

A campaign, Balls to Embargoes, was started in 2006 to end the isolation of Northern Cypriot players, who are classed as overseas players in Turkey. A handful of Northern Cypriot players have played in the professional CFA league but one of the first to do so, Sabri Selden, who signed for Nea Salimina in 2002, was publicly castigated by the TRNC’s then nationalist president Rauf Denktas.
Since then, Denktas has been replaced by the more moderate Mehmet Ali Talat, who began talks to discuss reuniting the island but his mandate has been undermined by the NUP’s recent success.

In the 1970s after Turkey’s invasion of the top half of Cyprus, a Northern Cyprus national team was permitted to play friendly matches against FIFA members but this ended when the TRNC formally declared independence in 1983.

FIFA and UEFA have since tightened their entry rules to appease Spanish concerns over Gibraltar fielding a national team and new FIFA members have to be recognized by the ‘international community’ as a country but Kosovo’s declaration of independence is testing that rule.

In 2007, Kosovo beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 in Ankara but since declaring independence the following year a request made to FIFA to emulate Northern Cyprus in the 1970s and just play international friendlies has languished. The subject has been discussed at FIFA Executive Committee meetings this year but Kosovo first need to join UEFA.

Kosovo’s independence is recognized by 58 nations around the world but to join UEFA the criterion is more specific than FIFA’s and requires United Nations (UN) membership.

On March 3, UEFA president visited Serbia, who bitterly oppose Kosovo’s attempts top join the UN, and promised the Serbia Football Association in Belgrade said: “UEFA honors its statute, which is clear: a state that does not belong to the UN cannot become a member of the organization, but I would like for us to find a way for young people in Kosovo to play football.”

On March 28, Kosovo’s manager Edmond Rugova took his team to Sweden for a friendly against Malmo FF, who was lost 5-0. Rugova said: “We went there with a different name and had to call ourselves ‘Super Liga of Kosovo Selection’ and not a national team to disguise ourselves.

“We’ve done all we can. It’s mind-boggling. It doesn’t make sense. Who gains from segregation? Football is about playing together.”

Regarding Kosovo, FIFA said: “The FIFA Executive Committee confirmed at the latest meetings in Tokyo (Dec 2008) and Zurich (March 2009) its support for the UEFA Executive Committee’s decision that member associations not be permitted to contest friendly matches with the Kosovo football association.”

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