There have been so many false dawns for Kosovo’s footballers that the sight of another materialising might not give rise to much enthusiasm but this time politics, instead of clouding the issue, might force a resolution.
Kosovo’s attempt to join the global game have been stymied by opposition from Serbia, which been supported by UEFA and its president Sepp Blatter.
Serbia has aspirations to join the European Union and on April 16 the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is due to issue a report on whether the Serbs can begin talks to join the EU. Normalising relations between Kosovo and Serbia are widely seen as a prerequisite before that approval can be given.
According to international media reports, the main stumbling block is agreement over potential autonomy of the judiciary and the police in northern Kosovo, where ethnic Serbs who do not recognize Kosovan authority are in a majority
A proposed solution could be autonomy for Serb-dominated municipalities in northern Kosovo in return for Serbian recognition.
A recent round of talks between Kosovan and Serbian politicians broke down earlier this week. However, Kosovan diplomats already operate in Belgrade and Serbian officials are in Prishtina, while border controls are in place between both countries.
Last month the FIFA Executive Committee (ExCo) approved president Sepp Blatter as an official mediator on the issue. If a solution could be found before April 16, this would leave UEFA in a completely untenable situation and open the way for FIFA and its president Sepp Blatter to completely over-rule Platini.
Platini has, perhaps not unreasonably, side with UEFA member Serbia throughout the wrangling. The former French international insists that until Kosovo is recognised by the United Nations then the FFK cannot be accepted as a member – a criteria belatedly created by UEFA to exclude the British colony of Gibraltar and pacify another Platini loyalist, Ángel María Villar Llona, the influential president of the Spanish FA.
Spain are among the countries yet to recognise Kosovo’s independence, along with Russia and a number of eastern Bloc countries. In contrast, the United States and most countries in western Europe do recognise Kosovo’s independence, including 22 members of the EU.
By the end of 2012, 98 of the 193 countries had recognised Kosovo. Last month, Guyana became the latest country to recognise Kosovo.
To join FIFA, a new country first needs to be a member of a regional confederation. In some cases, such as South Sudan, this has been waived through as a formality. FIFA has adopted a more progressive attitude to Kosovo since 2008.
In 2010, to stop Kosovan players being poached without properly recompensing local clubs the FFK was included in FIFA’s new transfer matching system. In late 2012, Blatter over– ruled UEFA – much to the fury of Platini and the Serbs – and insisted that the Kosovans could play international friendlies against other UEFA members despite not being a member of the world body.
Furious filibustering followed, creating the farcical situation that means Kosovo can play these matches but only if the opponents and venue are approved by the Football Association of Serbia. In addition, the Kosovan team cannot display any evidence of their Kosovan identity. Not surprisingly, the FFK refused to submit to those conditions and no games have gone ahead.
If a solution is reached, any ground made by the Kosovans accompanied by the potential accession to UEFA of Gibraltar, whose application to join the European body goes to vote on May 24 in London, would surely not help relations between Villar Llona and Platini as the Frenchman gears up for his widely expected bid to succeed Blatter on the FIFA president's expected retirement in 2015.