The goal celebrations of two Switzerland players drew the attention of FIFA, which fined the two, who are of Kosovar Albanian heritage, for their gestures in a 2-1 victory over Serbia on Friday.
Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, who both grew up in Switzerland, each received a warning and a fine of 10,000 Swiss francs (about $10,100) for unsporting behavior by FIFA’s disciplinary panel. Each player had scored in the victory and celebrated with an eagle gesture, an apparent reference to the two-headed eagle on the Albanian flag. Both could have received two-match bans if their actions were found to have provoked fans. Swiss captain Stephan Lichtsteiner was warned and fined 5,000 Swiss francs ($5,050) for joining in.
The gesture clearly had significance because the opponent was Serbia, whose crackdown on the Albanian population in the former province of Kosovo was ended by NATO intervention in 1999, and it drew boos from Serbian fans. The Serbian football federation was fined 54,000 francs ($54,700) for fans’ “display of discriminatory banners and messages by Serbian supporters as well as for throwing objects during the match,” FIFA said.
Xhaka’s father was a political prisoner for 3 1/2 years in the former Yugoslavia. Shaqiri, who has flags of Kosovo and Switzerland on his shoes, was born in Yugoslavia, then moved to Switzerland when he was a child. Kosovo, which is now independent, and Serbia, which does not recognize its former territory’s independence, have been in conflict for centuries, but tensions were especially high in the late 1980s under Serbian political leader Slobodan Milosevic. As the country split during civil wars over the next decade, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians were either killed or forced to flee, creating a refugee crisis and the imprisonment of Milosevic in The Hague for war crimes.
Kosovo’s independence was recognized in 2008, with FIFA and UEFA recognizing the country in 2016. Still, Switzerland is estimated to be the home of hundreds of thousands of Kosovars and much of the country’s soccer talent remains there.
“It’s just emotion,” Shaqiri said of his celebration. “I’m very happy to score this goal. It’s not more. I think we don’t have to speak about this now.”
FIFA’s disciplinary committee also opened proceedings against Serbian fans, who booed. “In relation to the same match, disciplinary proceedings have been opened against the Serbian FA for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans,” it said in a statement (via the BBC).
Xhara and Shaqiri will be available for Switzerland, one of the best teams in World Cup, with their case illustrating how difficult it is to separate politics and sports these days. Switzerland Manager Vladimir Petkovic, who was born in Bosnia, stressed his desire to keep the two distinct.
“It’s important to be a fan,” he said, “and to give respect.”
Serbia Coach Mladen Krstajic and federation president Slavisa Kokeza were each fined 5,000 Swiss francs ($5,060) and warned by FIFA for “unsporting behavior due to statements made” about a referee.
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