Spain’s hostility to Kosovo forces UEFA to move youth games
GENEVA (AP) — Spain's refusal to respect the flag and anthem of Kosovo has forced UEFA to move qualifying games in soccer's Under-17 European Championship.
The latest hostility from Spain toward athletes from Kosovo seems to break a promise its government made to the International Olympic Committee to respect athlete rights.
The IOC intervened in November, and announced an agreement reached with Spanish ministers, after Kosovo symbols were prohibited at the karate world championships in Madrid.
"This will ensure that the athletes of Kosovo can participate under the same conditions as all the other athletes from the 206 National Olympic Committees recognized by the IOC," the Olympic body said three months ago.
The Spanish city of Bilbao is also one of 12 cities selected by UEFA to host the 2020 European Championship, with Kosovo a potential qualifier. The Balkan republic is assured of a place in the March 2020 playoff round.
Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008 is still not formally recognized by some European countries which have their own issues with separatist regions.
Now, UEFA confirmed on Monday that six games in a four-nation qualifying group for its main youth championship can no longer be played in Spain next month.
"These under-17 matches will not be played in Spain, as the national symbols (flag and anthem) of Kosovo are not recognized, authorized in the country," UEFA said.
Instead, the four national teams will come to the stadium next to UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, to play the games from March 25-31.
Spain's political stance on Kosovo has affected soccer after UEFA selected Madrid to host the Champions League final this season, though no team from Kosovo will be involved.
However, Kosovo won its UEFA Nations League group in November and is a contender to play at Euro 2020.