Kosovo finding recognition on the football field

GRAHAM DUNBAR
Last updated 07:23 14/01/2014

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Kosovo's bid for international recognition has been boosted by Fifa after football's governing body cleared more than 200 member countries to organise friendly matches against national and club teams from the former Yugoslav province.

Fifa said its emergency committee chaired by President Sepp Blatter made the decision Monday (NZT Tuesday) after he met last Friday with football leaders from Kosovo and Serbia.

''The decision... represents a major boost for football development in Kosovo and it once again confirms the extraordinary power of our sport to bring people together,'' Blatter said in a statement issued by Fifa.

However, national and club teams from countries which made up the former Yugoslavia, are currently excluded from the agreement.

Kosovo has used sport to further its international claims since declaring independence from Serbia in 2008. It is recognised by around 100 countries, but is not a member of the United Nations.

The Serbian football federation and European football authority UEFA had challenged a previous Blatter-led move in May 2012 to grant playing rights to Kosovo.  

Fifa said teams from Kosovo ''may not display national symbols (flags, emblems, etc) or play national anthems''.

They can ''wear or display kit or equipment bearing the name 'Kosovo''' and a star symbol.   

Teams from Kosovo must also give 21 days' notice of scheduled home matches, and Fifa will inform the Serbia football federation.

''Any breach of this agreement will be referred to Fifa and the agreement will automatically come to an end,'' the governing body warned.

Kosovo will likely use this agreement as a basis to press for membership of UEFA and Fifa, which would allow it to enter qualifying for major competitions in men's, women's and youth football.    

Fifa statutes currently allow players with Kosovo family connections to transfer eligibility from their current national teams.

Switzerland is likely to have several players with Kosovo links in its World Cup squad this year, including Bayern Munich winger Xherdan Shaqiri and Napoli midfielder Valon Behrami.

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- AP

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