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FIFA may discipline players over political celebration

June 24, 2018

Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri could receive a two-match ban over their display of an Albanian nationalist symbol. Both the Swiss and the Serbian football federations may also face disciplinary action from FIFA.

Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri celebrate their goal by forming the double-headed Albanian eagle with their hands
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/L. Gillieron

The football thriller in Kaliningrad between Switzerland and Serbia will be reviewed by FIFA for its political messages and may end in disciplinary action against two Swiss players, FIFA said on Saturday.

Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri celebrated their goals against Serbia by displaying the Albania national double-headed eagle symbol with their hands.

All political messages or symbols in stadiums are banned by FIFA. If the soccer governing body concludes that Xhaka and Shaqiri violated the rule, both could be banned for up to two games.

Though they hold Swiss nationality, the two players trace their roots to Kosovo, a former province of Serbia that declared independence in 2008, a move that Belgrade does not yet recognize.

Read more: Switzerland salvage a win against Serbia

Balkan roots

Thousands of Kosovo Albanians fled rising ethnic tensions in the 1990s that culminated in a bloody 1998-99 war of independence between ethnic Albanians and Serb forces. Shaqiri was born in Kosovo and his parents were among those who fled, settling in Switzerland.

Xhaka was born in Switzerland to Albanian parents, and his brother, Taulant Xhaka, is also a footballer, who plays for Albania's national team.

In a post-match interview, Shaqiri did not shy away from his controversial goal celebration. "The victory was for my family, which I always support," the football player said to Swiss broadcaster SRF. "The celebration was not a message to the opponent," he added.

Read more: The Balkans: From Yugoslav wars to an ever-tense peace

Political reactions

The player's message was well received in both Kosovo and Albania.

Kosovar President Hashim Thaci wrote on Twitter: "Congratulations to goalscorers Xhaka, Shaqiri and entire #Switzerland on a well deserved win! Proud of you." He finished his tweet: "Kosova ju don!" — an Albanian phrase meaning "Kosovo loves you!"

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama posted on his Facebook page photos of Shaqiri and Xhaka with their hands crossed in the two-headed eagle symbol and wrote: "Photo of the day."

Xherdan Shaqiri's right shoe displays the flag of Kosovo
Xherdan Shaqiri's right shoe displays the flag of KosovoImage: picture-alliance/dpa/L. Gillieron

Serbian outrage

The contentious match drew the ire of Serbian coach Mladen Krstajic, not just because of the Kosovo-related celebration but also due to a ruling that he felt should have concluded with a penalty kick for Serbia after being reviewed.

But in his criticism, the coach dove in with political rhetoric. Of German referee Felix Brych's performance, Krstajic said, "I would not give him a yellow or a red card. I would send him to The Hague so that he can be judged as they do to us."

The comment was in reference to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia trials of Serbians who took part in the Yugoslav wars. The statement will now be reviewed by FIFA as part of the disciplinary investigation into the match.

FIFA has also opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association for crowd disturbance and display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans during the game.

Read more: 'EU must recognize historic opportunity to solve Kosovo issue'

Other World Cup disciplinary action

The Swiss and Serbian football organizations are not the only ones under the eye of FIFA's disciplinary board.

The Polish Football Association was fined 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,100, €8,671) and given a warning by FIFA on Saturday for a banner that was deemed political and offensive, displayed during its game against Senegal on Tuesday in Moscow.

Argentina and Croatia also face disciplinary proceedings for crowd disturbances during their game on Thursday in Nizhny Novgorod.

FIFA is also considering disciplinary action against Mexico for fans using an anti-gay slur during Sunday's game against Germany.

jcg/sms (dpa, AFP, EFE, AP)

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