Bosnia banned from world football by FIFA, UEFA
Because of a dispute fueled by ethnic rivalry, Bosnia-Herzegovina was suspended from football by FIFA and UEFA on Friday and threatened with expulsion from the 2012 European Championship.
The ban on Bosnia's national and club teams playing internationally was imposed because some of the members of the national football federation refused requests to replace a three-member presidency with a single leader.
Bosnian football is run on similar lines to its politics, and the federation's presidency is shared by a Bosniak, a Croat and a Serb. And just like in politics, the Bosnian Serbs do not agree with the concept of one president because they fear it might jeopardize their autonomy.
The situation was tolerated because FIFA and UEFA were aware of Bosnia's political problems and ethnic divisions after the 1992-95 war. But last October, the executive committees of the governing bodies set Bosnia a March deadline to modernize its statutes or a suspension would be automatically triggered.
However, Bosnian Serbs opposed the single president plan at a meeting in Sarajevo on Tuesday.
''FIFA and UEFA deeply regret that this decision had to be taken,'' the governing bodies said in a joint statement.
They said they will meet soon ''to discuss the next steps required to try to bring (Bosnia) back into the football family as soon as possible.''
The ban angered Bosnian fans and professionals who called the behavior of football federation officials ''shameful''.
In Sarajevo, football fans laid a wreath in front of the football federation's building while acting as if they were at a funeral.
''It is a shame but not a surprise at all,'' said Muhamed Konjic, the former national team captain. Officials of the football federation ''lost a long time ago the trust of the players and football fans.''
FIFA could install an emergency panel to run the federation's affairs and allow Bosnia's teams, referees and officials to work internationally.
In recent years, the world body has appointed so-called ''normalization committees'' with mandates of up to 12 months in El Salvador, Kuwait, Senegal and Samoa.
While sports professionals were disappointed in the federation's failure to conform to FIFA and UEFA rules, the president of the Bosnian Serb region, Milorad Dodik, told reporters that he was ''against having one president of anything in Bosnia, even a beekeeper's association.''
Many Bosnian officials and fans believe the suspension punishes people who backed FIFA's and UEFA's rules and rewards those in the Serb half of the country who don't support Bosnia's national team. They view the national team of neighboring Serbia as their own, and would not be unhappy to see the Bosnian team suspended.
''As if they have put an innocent man in jail,'' said Bosnia's coach Safet Susic about the decision of FIFA and UEFA. ''I expect them to find a fair solution to this.''
Bosnia is scheduled to resume its Euro 2012 program on June 3 in Romania, which it beat 2-1 in Zenica last Saturday, and host Albania on June 7. It has never appeared at a major tournament as an independent team.
UEFA has not officially discussed options for Euro 2012 if Bosnia cannot fulfill its matches, but could expel the team and wipe its results from the Group D records.
In the national league standings, Borac Banja Luka from the Serb region has an eight-point lead and faces being denied a first entry into UEFA's Champions League qualifying round next season.
Borac director Radmilo Sipovac told The Associated Press he hoped a compromise could be reached before matches begin in July.
''We believe that FIFA and UEFA will form a committee of normalization for the Bosnian football association and that by the time the qualifications for the (Champions League) are to start, we will find a solution so the clubs and the national team would not suffer,'' Sipovac said. ''We also expect people who care about football to be in that committee and not only those who only care about their own interests.''
Bosnia also could lose places in UEFA's second-tier Europa League competition next season which are currently held by Zeljeznicar and FC Sarajevo. Both are members of the European Club Association lobby group.
ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said clubs and players were not to blame for their federation's political issues.
''The clubs cannot be the victim of the current situation. I hope that the governing bodies will consider this important point,'' Rummenigge said.
While suspended, Bosnia also has its grants from the world and European football bodies frozen, and loses the right to attend the FIFA Congress on June 1 in Zurich. Up to 208 national associations are scheduled to vote in the FIFA presidential election.
Dunbar reported from Geneva, Switzerland.