2022 World Cup: why the Spain-Kosovo match is so tense behind the scenes

Spain receives this Wednesday evening in Seville Kosovo (8:45 pm) as part of the qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup. A very political poster, insofar as the Spanish government still refuses to recognize the independence of the former Serbian province.

After their draw against Greece last Thursday (1-1), then their short victory in Georgia on Sunday (2-1), Spain will complete this international break this Wednesday evening with the reception of Kosovo (8:45 p.m.) for the World Cup qualifiers. 2022. If the match between the 6th nation in the Fifa rankings and the 117th promises to be quite unbalanced, it could however be tense. Behind the scenes, it already is.

Why? Because Spain, along with Greece, Slovakia, Romania and Cyprus, is one of the five countries of the European Union not to recognize the independence of the former Serbian province. And this is not without consequences.

Since the poster is known, the sporting duel has taken on a serious political dimension. Kosovo, mostly populated by Albanians, seems to see this match as a form of national affirmation. For its part, Madrid ensures that it is a simple “sporting event”. And yet, the controversy arose when the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) published the schedule of “Roja” for the qualifiers of the next World Cup against Greece, Georgia and the “territory of Kosovo”.

The designation “territory” aroused the ire of the Kosovar Federation, which noted in a statement that “Kosovo is an independent state” and threatened not to play the match if it was not allowed to use its anthem and its flag. “We were prepared not to go to Spain because of the political context,” Kosovar Federation secretary general Eroll Salihu told AFP.

To the chagrin of Belgrade, which still considers Kosovo to be an integral part of its territory, UEFA and FIFA have recognized Kosovo – which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 in 2008 – as a full member since 2016. But European countries like Spain, or powers like China and Russia, still don’t recognize it.

The Spanish government does not want to revise its position on this subject, mainly for national reasons. Madrid, faced with its own separatist tensions in regions such as Catalonia or the Basque Country, fears that the Kosovar example, despite the geographical distance, will give arguments to its population.

If the RFEF has assured that it will comply with FIFA and UEFA regulations and their protocols, which means that the Kosovar anthem can be played in Sevilla, and the flag displayed, the broadcast of the match could give rise to a form of censorship on Spanish public television.

According to Marca, the term “Kosovo” as a country cannot be pronounced on public service, and commentators could therefore rather speak of a match between Spain and “the Kosovo Football Federation”. Likewise, the Kosovar anthem might not be shown to Spanish viewers. What remains to be confirmed …

Spain’s stance on Kosovo has generated tension in sport in the past. Spain, for example, refused to host the elite qualifying round matches for the 2019 European Under-17 Championships between its selection, Greece, Kosovo and Ukraine, which were ultimately played out. in Nyon (Switzerland).

In November 2018, the Kosovar participants in the world karate championships in Madrid also had to do so under the banner of the International Karate Federation, to the annoyance of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which had toughened their tone.


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