Kosovo gets UEFA membership

Budapest, May 3

UEFA on Tuesday admitted Kosovo as its 55th member boosting the former Serbian province’s hopes of taking part in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Despite warnings from Serbia and other countries that could lose players to the Kosovo national team, a UEFA congress voted 28 to 24 with two abstentions to accept Kosovo. Kosovo will have a team at the Olympics for the first time at the Rio de Janeiro Games in August. FIFA will now decide at its congress in Mexico on May 13 whether to become the last major sporting federation to make Kosovo a member.

The Kosovo Football Federation hopes that if it gets FIFA’s green light, it will get a late place in one of Europe’s qualifying groups for the World Cup in Russia. “We are very happy today of course,” federation president Fadil Vokrri told AFP. “Now we have to wait and see now what FIFA decides in 10 days in Mexico, but we hope for the best, that we can compete in the World Cup.”

Passionate speeches were made for and against Kosovo’s membership at the congress. Serbia’s Football Association president Tomislav Karadzic said it would open up a “Pandora’s Box” with other breakaway regions applying for membership. But Vokrri said UEFA had to vote for footballers. “What message are we sending the youth of Kosovo. Do we really have the right to deny Kosovo’s young athletes of this privilege,” the federation president told the congress before the vote. “Sixty per cent of the population of Kosovo are aged under 27. Can we really keep them away from this privilege.”

Switzerland, which has several ethnic Kosovo players in its national team, including Xerdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and Valon Behrami, also opposed the vote. Kosovo was at the centre of a war between ethnic-Albanian and Serbian forces in 1998-99 and declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. It is now recognised by more than 100 countries, but it is not a United Nations member.