Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughMixing sport, politics and religion; tales from Bosnia, Poland and Ukraine - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Mixing sport, politics and religion; tales from Bosnia, Poland and Ukraine - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Mixing sport, politics and religion; tales from Bosnia, Poland and Ukraine

One of the great truisms in life, never observed obviously because everyone likes a challenge, is that religion and politics do not mix, proven time and time again throughout history. When you chuck sport into this mix, the chances of the outcome being positive are so slim it disappears when it turns side on.

On Friday, we were given a glimpse of this truth in action when FIFA and UEFA suspended Bosnia-Herzegovina from all world football due to the complex structure of the Bosnian football federation (the NSBIH). The federation has a rotating presidency (like the political structure of the country) whereby the post is shared by a Muslim (or a Bosniak, depending on what source you read), a Croatian and a Serbian but FIFA insisted that the NSBIH would have to fall into line with all other FIFA members’ federations systems by the end of March or face the consequences.

FIFA had taken a lenient stance on the situation due to Bosnia’s complex, unique and fraught past between the different ethnic groups in the Balkans as a whole but felt that enough time was given to make the change.

At a meeting of the NSBIH, 28 out the 53 representatives voted against the motion, largely because Bosnian Serbs opposed the single-president plan due to fear of jeopardising their autonomy. Thus, FIFA have banned Bosnia, who currently sit 4th in their Euro 2012 qualifying group, from all future international competition until a solution is found. Bosnia has also lost its membership rights with both FIFA and UEFA as a result of this.

Safet Susic, Bosnia’s national team’s manager, has lashed out at the ruling saying: “We can only hope that UEFA and FIFA will show some level of understanding for our political situation and come up with a feasible model because, quite frankly, I don’t see another way,” adding that; “These people are incapable of running the NFSBIH properly, although this situation is partly a result of political orders because Bosnia is an ethnically divided country where a dysfunctional system has now caught up with football.

In the past, FIFA has installed an emergency committee to run a federation for 12 months, as they have in El Salvador, Kuwait, Senegal and Samoa but this is a completely different situation to those countries due to historical and political context.

If football, and indeed sport, is seen to be a great unifying force for humanity one-size-fits-all rules and regulations imposed upon Football Associations by the governing bodies does not help disseminate this image.

Evidence would suggest the rotating presidency has not hindered the growth of football in Bosnia. A fluid 4-level system of league football is in place and has been established since 2001. The UEFA club coefficient for Bosnia for the 2010-11 season is 29th (just behind Norway and Sweden) and on the rise. The national team sit 4th in their group, a point behind Belarus and Albania and five behind leaders France with a game in hand. A talented group of players such as Edin Dzeko, Miralem Pjanic, Asmir Begovic, Sejad Salihovic and many more are making their mark on European leagues.

The political situation in Bosnia is fragile enough as it is with the fledgling state needing stability in all areas of life, not pointless meddling from power-hungry, greedy football bureaucrats, unwilling to loosen the rules to help a society develop and create a sense of pride in their football team.



Meanwhile, an investigation into hate crimes at football matches in Poland and Ukraine, the co-hosts of the 2012 European Championships, has uncovered some worrying trends.

The report, sponsored by UEFA, found nearly 200 serious disturbances in the last 18 months including anti-Semitic chants and banners at football matches, abuse towards black players (including from their own fans) and violent attacks against anti-racism groups.

Of the 133 reported incidents in Poland, 56 were to do with open displays of fascist or racist symbols and banners, 20 “anti-black” incidents and 36 anti-Semitic incidents of chants and banners. Ukrainian football fans were responsible for 62 of the incidents, including violence between neo-Nazi fans and left-ist supporters of Dynamo Kyiv and Arsenal Kyiv respectively.

The report, published today, paints a disappointing picture of the image of fans in the two countries, compounded by violence at last week’s friendly between Poland and Lithuania where 60 fans were detained after clashes with police.

Both the Polish government and UEFA have promised a crackdown on hooliganism, with UEFA’s director of Euro 2012, Martin Kallen, saying that there will be “changes in the next month.”

Despite more than 12 million tickets being requested for the Championships by fans before the deadline on Thursday, this report is not the news the Ukrainian and Polish FAs need right now to soothe fears that the first big football tournament to be held in Eastern Europe will not be marred by violence and racist behaviour.


You can follow The Layman on Twitter at!/Dan_Whiteway

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