Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bosnia’s Soccer Federation must decide today whether to end its ethnically selected presidency or face international exile.

Bosnia Decides Country's Football's Future

Bosnia’s Soccer Federation must decide today whether to end its ethnically selected presidency or face international exile.
Eldin Hadzovic
International football's governing bodies, FIFA and UEFA, have demanded that Bosnia make changes to its football management structure by March 31 or risk exclusion from the bodies.

It must replace its three-member presidency - made up of a Bosniak, a Croat and a Serb - with a single president.

Bosnia' Soccer Federation, NSBiH, is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss the issue; and it is not yet clear if they will agree to adopt the required statute, which is fiercely opposed by some.

If the new statute is not adopted, FIFA and UEFA could suspend Bosnia from international competitions, and they also have the right to introduce a trustee who would set up a new Football Association in the country. In effect, Bosnia could receive an international administrator for football, much like the High Representative in the political sphere.

Bosnia's soccer federation currently reflects the country’s political and ethnic divisions after the war of the 1990s.

The NSBiH is made up of two associations, representing Bosnia’s two entities – the predominantly Serb Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation – which are together headed by the three-member presidency.

The Bosnian Serb representatives oppose the one-president concept imposed by FIFA, as they fear this might jeopardize their autonomy.

“We believe that preserving the tripartite presidency is a must… the only thing we can accept is that the Presidency rotates [between the three ethnic groups] every 16 months,” the vice-president of the Republika Srpska football association, Stasa Kosarac, told Balkan Insight.

Changes to the football federation's structure are also opposed by Croat representatives. Josip Bevanda, secretary general of SC Siroki Brijeg and a member of the Bosnia Soccer Federation’s Executive Board, told Balkan Insight that the FIFA and UEFA rules are unfair.

He said most of the delegates had voted against the changes to the federation structure demanded by UEFA.

“What kind of democracy is that?" he asked. “Why do they insist on such rules, if we decided differently in a democratic fashion?”

Bogdan Ceko, a celebrated former Bosnian footballer and the Serb member of the NSBiH's presidency, advocates adopting FIFA's demands. He told Balkan Insight that he hopes reason will prevail over what is widely recognised as a political problem.

“Last week, I attended the UEFA Congress in Paris, and my friends from UEFA told me that we won't see anything nice if the required statute is not adopted,” Ceko said.

“But still,” he added, “I am going to the session as an optimist. If the Olympic Committee three months ago did the same thing, I do not see any reason why it wn't be done by NSBiH.”

If the NSBiH is suspended from FIFA and UEFA, the effects could be felt throughout Bosnia, where international funding currently makes up between 70 and 80 per cent of the NSBiH budget.
In addition, Bosnian clubs often cannot pay their players regularly, so participation in international competitions is of vital importance for footballers.

The best example is FC Borac from Banja Luka, which is expected to win the Bosnian club championships this year, and thus play qualifications for Europe’s Champions League.

Even participation in the qualifications brings substantial revenue, and to small clubs like Borac it is essential to survival.

Bosnia's national football team, however, arguably has the most to lose from a suspension, as it fights for first place in its qualifying group for Euro 2012.

If Bosnia faces international exile, a great performance on Saturday against Romania could be the team's last for some time.

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