Bosnia: Can Football Trump Politics?


 The International Football Federation (FIFA) has dissolved the Bosnian Football Federation because ist governance does not correspond to FIFA rules: instead of a single President, the Bosnian Federation is composed of a troika: a Bosniak, a Croatian, and a Serb – in true Bosnian fashion, where according to the hapless Dayton Agreement the Federal government’s leadership is to be composed of a similarly composed troika.

The FIFA ban prevents Bosnia from participating in international tournaments, in concreto would exclude it from playing its European championship qualification matches against Albania and Romania at the beginning of June. It also prevents club teams from playing international games, thus in essence kills Bosnian football, one of the few national sports played in all entities, cantons, villages. In order to solve this situation, FIFA has installed a “normalisation committee”, headed by –among others – former Sturm Graz coach Ivica Osim, a Bosnian national, whose task it is to prepare a Bosnian Football General Assembly which should solve this governance issue and install a single President. This would lift the ban and allow Bosnian Football to compete once more internationally.

In Bosnia-Hercegovina, Dayton installed an unwieldy governance structure, with the purpose to maintain the unity of the country after the devastating 1992-95 war. Two “entities”, Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation form the most important regional and political entities. It might be mentioned here that the Federation is composed of 10 cantons, each with ethnic domination and each with a full parliament and government. Thus all of Bosnia-Hercegovina has nearly 200 ministers and a thousand parliamentarians (all at enormous cost).  Together the “entities” are supposed to form the federal government, strictly along proportional ethnic lines, where the Presidency is composed of one Bosniak, one Croat, one Serb. (The fact that all other nationalities are excluded from this office (and others which “belong” to these ethnic groups) has been challenged by international courts.) The last national election was conducted in October, but so far no national government has been formed, because no agreement has been possible on which Croatian party is entitled to nominate the Croat member for the Presidency. Two nationalist Croatian parties (also on this issue supported by Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik) contest a third one which ran on a non-ethnic platform. High Representative Valentin Inzko has suspended one nomination as non-representative. The Bosnian population has once more become the victim of an ethnic-political stalemate which every day in which this goes unresolved loses out in life opportunities and international competitiveness. Dayton, while important as an instrument to end the war, has turned into a stumbling block towards national unity. Individual politicians and parties have used the Dayton agreement to promote their own interests over those of the Bosnian population. Attempts to draw up a new, modern constitution, have been blocked by one or the other party since 2006.

But there is hope via football: Clearly, the Bosnian population right now gives more attention to the FIFA ban than to their all-too-familiar political stalemate. There are strong call from all ethnic elements of society to have Bosnia re-admitted into the international football family. Bosnians feel that this is not only a matter of national pride, but that this goes to the heart of every child, every grownup in every village of this unhappy country, feeling that part of their cultural and sports identity is being taken away. What life is there without football?

Thus, many people believe that a football solution will eventually be found. Wise Ivica Osim might be of help there. And, who knows: maybe wisdom gained through football might even be transferred into the political arena. It is to be hoped that Bosnia will be able to once more compete in international football, but even more that Bosnia can finally throw off the shackles of its Dayton past and move forward into a European future. Politicians, follow the example of the footballers and let Bosnians have a future!

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2 Comments

Filed under Socio-Economic Development

2 responses to “Bosnia: Can Football Trump Politics?

  1. The Bosnian FA adopted the new statues, a very important moment in the history of Bosnian football. We have had the team which was good enough to qualify for a major tournament for a while, now we have the Football Federation. It’s only a matter of time before we do go to the Euro or World Cup and the same is true for our women’s team and our U21, U19, and U17 teams. Now it’s time to change the political system.

    • kurtbayer

      Let us hope for the best: my Bosnian friends are sceptical about the politicans’ ability to overcome their nationalist attitudes in favor of the overall Bosnian population, however.

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