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29 Mar 11

Bosnia Football to Be Suspended From International Play

Bosnia’s Soccer Federation has failed to end its ethnically selected presidency, and is now expected to be suspended from international competition.

Eldin Hadzovic

At its meeting on Tuesday, Bosnia's Football Federation, NSBiH, failed to adopt a statute required by international football's governing bodies, FIFA and UEFA, to change its football management structure.

FIFA and UEFA had demanded that Bosnian football replace its three-member presidency - made up of a Bosniak, a Croat and a Serb - with a single president by March 31 or face exclusion from the bodies.

Because the new statute was not adopted by the deadline, Bosnia will be automatically suspended from international competitions, effective April 1, according to a previous FIFA and UEFA decision.

The bodies 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.

Balkan Insight’s source in UEFA believes that Bosnia’s national team will not be suspended for a long period, despite the Federation's failure to adopt the statute. According to the source, the suspension might last for ten days, until a decision on temporary administration is declared by UEFA on April 10.

FIFA and UEFA have not yet responded to Bosnia's decision on Tuesday not to adopt the statue.

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 before Tuesday's vote 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 won't be done by NSBiH.”

The effects of the NSBiH's suspension will likely 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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