Spain’s 2022 World Cup qualifier against Kosovo on Wednesday is more than just a football game, with the Sevilla meeting also being the center of a diplomatic row. The controversy stems from the description of Kosovo as “territory” by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) when the first World Cup qualifying matches were published in Spain in a group that also includes Sweden, Greece and Georgia . The description was not appreciated in Kosovo, the former Serbian province of 1.8 million people which declared independence in 2008.
In response, the Kosovo Football Federation (FFK) said in a statement that “Kosovo is an independent state” and threatened not to play the match if it was not allowed to use its national anthem and flag. .
“We were prepared not to go to Spain because of the political context of this decision,” FFK secretary general Eroll Salihu told UKTN.
Kosovo gained full UEFA and FIFA member status in 2016 and first appeared in competition in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
“ Independence is irreversible ”
Most Western powers recognize Kosovo’s statehood, but Serbia and its main international allies, China and Russia, do not.
Neither Spain nor Greece, another of their opponents on the pitch in the Qatar 2022 qualifying campaign.
Spain and Greece, along with Slovakia, Romania and Cyprus, are the five European Union member states that were asked last week to recognize Kosovo by the European Parliament.
“The independence of Kosovo is irreversible. Recognition by these remaining EU member states … would be beneficial for the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, strengthen and consolidate the stability of the region,” said members of the European Parliament.
Nevertheless, Madrid have already said that the organization of Wednesday’s game at Seville’s La Cartuja stadium will not persuade them to change their position.
“The organization of the match between the teams of these two federations in no way changes Spain’s position not to recognize Kosovo as a state,” Spanish diplomatic sources told UKTN.
The position of the Spanish government is explained by fears of a ripple effect that recognition of Kosovo could have on the separatists in Catalonia.
“Spain, which still has problems with national unity, wants to avoid being threatened by a process of” balkanization “,” historian Jose Alvarez Junco told the online daily El Confidencial.
Spain’s position with regard to Kosovo has already created tensions in the sports theater.
In 2019, he decided not to stage matches in the elite round of qualifying for the European Under-17 Championship against Greece, Kosovo and Ukraine.
The matches were eventually played in Nyon, Switzerland, where UEFA is headquartered.
Prior to that, in November 2018, Kosovar participants in the World Karate Championships in Madrid took part under the flag of the International Karate Federation, to the irritation of the International Olympic Committee.
Meanwhile, Spain is separated from the World Cup and European Championship qualifiers from Gibraltar, the small British territory at the southern end of Spain, historically claimed by Madrid.
Spain “will adapt to the rules put in place by FIFA and UEFA for these matches on Wednesday,” diplomatic sources and sources from the Spanish Federation told UKTN.
“We have received assurances from UEFA and FIFA that the protocol (covering international matches) will be respected,” said Salihu, which means that Kosovo will be able to play its anthem and fly its flag in La Cartuja.
This should avoid any controversy in the match itself, as Kosovo – ranked 117th in the world by FIFA – appear to cause a major shock against the 2010 world champions.
“Spain are one of the best teams in the world, but we have a young team who fear no one,” added Salihu.
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