x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Bosnia facing a ban from international football after vote

Country rejects calls from Fifa and Uefa to cut its three presidents to one, a setup that reflects its ethnic division since the 1992/95 war

SARAJEVO // The Bosnian football federation yesterday rejected a request from Fifa and Uefa to cut its three presidents to one, leaving the country facing a ban from international matches.

Bosnia-Herzegovina's federation reflects the political set-up of the country and its ethnic division after the 1992/95 war. It consists of two associations: one a Bosnian Serb and another shared by Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats. Together they are headed by a three-member presidency, made up of a Bosniak, a Croat and a Serb.

Just like in politics, the Bosnian Serbs do not agree with the concept of one president because they fear it might jeopardise their autonomy. All Bosnian Serb delegates and a number of Bosnian Croats voted against the change.

Bogdan Ceko, the head of the Bosnian Serb association told media after the meeting that he "does not feel personally responsible for this but we can talk about a collective responsibility."

Bosnian Serbs base their refusal on the country's constitution written in 1995 during peace negotiations in Dayton, Ohio. The peace agreement ended the Bosnian war but divided it along ethnic lines and prescribed a three-member presidency for the country - a set-up that has proven ineffective as all three have to agree in order to pass a decision.

The three-member presidency and other provisions of the Bosnian statute that did not conform to Fifa's standards were tolerated for years because both Fifa and Uefa were aware of Bosnia's political problems.

But in October last year, both agencies told Bosnia that 15 years after Dayton the transition period is over and that if the country does not conform to the rules by end of March, it will be suspended. Back then, the Serbs said they would not change the set-up but that the three presidents could rotate as chairman every 16 months.

A suspension would effectively punish those in Bosnia who voted for Fifa's and Uefa's rules and will reward those who voted against them because people in the Serb half of the country do not support Bosnia's national team. They view neighbouring Serbia as their team, and would not be unhappy to see the Bosnian team suspended.

"It's hard. I'm taking this very hard," said Muhidin Rascic, a Bosniak member of the federation's executive board. "Only I know how much of my life I have invested into all of this and now it's gone."

Bosnia's suspension from world football has to be confirmed by the emergency committees of Fifa and Uefa chaired by their respective presidents Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini.

Suspension from world football prevents a country's national and club teams from taking part in international matches. Officials are also prevented from contributing to international football business, while funding from the world and European governing bodies is frozen.

If not solved in the next two months, the dispute could damage Bosnia's promising prospects of qualifying for the 2012 European Championship.

The team's next international qualifier is on June 3 away to Romania, who they beat 2-1 in Zenica last Saturday, and they are scheduled to host Albania on June 7.