FIFA, UEFA never been ones for sensitivity

April, 1, 2011

Today the news emerged that Bosnia-Herzegovina, a fragile state still reeling from the bloody conflict in Bosnia during the 1990s, has been banned from international competitions.

This is sad for a number of reasons. Bosnia-Herzegovina looked likely to rise from the wreck of its wretched past through glorious sporting catharsis. It has a very promising national squad, led by Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko and consisting of several more soon-to-be-world-class midfielders and forwards such as Miralem Pjanic.

The squad has given the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina a great deal of joy. I saw this firsthand on a delightful night in a press box bursting with Bosnian journalists, as Belgium was destroyed 4-2 in a World Cup qualifier. Let's leave it at this: The no-cheering-in-the-press-box rule was not observed that day. And my ears are still ringing.

But this is sad mostly because it once again illustrates how out of touch the governing bodies are. The reason Bosnia-Herzegovina has been expelled is that its soccer federation had three leaders when FIFA and UEFA abide only one. Still divided by sectarianism, the once-warring Bosnian Croats, Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslims each had a co-leader in place.

FIFA and UEFA are too narrow-minded to accept this. I recognize that having rules is important, as is uniformity, but in this instance, a little more sensitivity would have served handily. A toddler could tell you compromise is the way. And that's what the Bosnians had come to.

FIFA and UEFA told the federation in October that it had until March to install a single leader or risk suspension for the national team and continental play for club teams. Naturally, the sides couldn't agree, allegedly scuppered by the Bosnian Serbs, who feared a loss of autonomy. I mean, you wouldn't ask the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds to come up with a single leader in Iraq, would you? So they remained deadlocked, and FIFA and UEFA felt compelled to bring down the hammer.

What is striking in this is how quick the governing bodies' trigger is when somebody dares tread just a half-step outside of the boundaries they have laid, when the organizations themselves are completely unmovable on the many major issues facing them (see: transparency, corruption, goal-line technology, etc.). I've written before about FIFA's hypocrisy when it comes to sports and politics; we can now add a complete ignorance of the way the world functions to its list of defects.

If a solution isn't found soon, Bosnia-Herzegovina could be removed from UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers, even though it currently sits just a point off second place in Group D with a game in hand. Missing qualifiers would rob it of a chance at national redemption at the Euros, an opportunity to forge brotherhood among enemies.

All of this because of an organizational technicality struck down by obtuse governing bodies.

Leander Schaerlaeckens

Contributing writer,
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a contributing writer for He has previously written for The Guardian, The Washington Times and UPI.


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