The 2022 Spanish World Cup qualifier against Kosovo on Wednesday is more than a simple football match. The meeting in Seville is also the focus of a diplomatic dispute.
The controversy arises from the description of Kosovo as “territory” by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) when it released Spain’s inaugural World Cup qualifiers in a group with Sweden, Greece and Georgia.
The description was not honored in Kosovo, the former Serbian province with 1.8 million inhabitants, which declared its independence in 2008.
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Spain coach Luis Enrique speaks to striker Ferran Torres in Spain’s last game.Source: AFP
In response, the Football Association of Kosovo (FFK) issued a statement saying that Kosovo was an independent state and threatened not to play the game if it were not allowed to use its national anthem and flag.
“Due to the political context of this decision, we were prepared not to go to Spain,” FFK General Secretary Eroll Salihu told AFP.
Kosovo received full membership of UEFA and FIFA in 2016 and competed for the first time in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
– “Independence is irreversible” –
Most Western powers recognize the statehood of Kosovo, but Serbia and its leading international allies China and Russia do not.
Spain or Greece are also no other opponents on the field to qualify for Qatar 2022.
Spain and Greece, along with Slovakia, Romania and Cyprus, are the five member states of the European Union that were asked by the European Parliament last week to recognize Kosovo.
“Kosovo’s independence is irreversible. Recognition by these remaining EU member states … would help normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia, improve and consolidate the stability of the region, ”said MEPs.
Even so, Madrid have already stated that Wednesday’s match at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville will not move them to change their position.
“The staging of the game between the teams of these two associations in no way changes Spain’s position not to recognize Kosovo as a state,” Spanish diplomatic sources told AFP.
The position of the Spanish government is explained by the fear that the recognition of Kosovo could have repercussions for 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.
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– “Sports tensions” –
Spain’s position vis-à-vis Kosovo has previously created tension in sports theater.
In 2019 she decided against hosting games in the elite qualifying round for the U17 European Championship against Greece, Kosovo and Ukraine.
The games were eventually played in Nyon, Switzerland, where UEFA is headquartered.
Previously, in November 2018, Kosovar participants took part in the Karate World Championships in Madrid under the flag of the International Karate Federation, which irritated the International Olympic Committee.
Meanwhile, Spain is being kept separate in World Cup and European Championship qualifiers from Gibraltar, the tiny British territory on the southern tip of Spain historically claimed by Madrid.
On Wednesday, Spain will “adapt to the rules that FIFA and UEFA have drawn up for these games,” said diplomatic sources and sources from the Spanish association AFP.
“We have received guarantees from UEFA and FIFA that the protocol (which covers international matches) will be respected,” said Salihu, which means that Kosovo can play its anthem and fly its flag in La Cartuja.
That should avoid any controversy as Kosovo – ranked 117th in the world by FIFA – will cause a huge shock against the 2010 world champions.
“Spain are one of the best teams in the world, but we have a young team that fears no one,” added Salihu.