European soccer’s governing body voted Tuesday to formally recognize the Kosovo Football Federation as its 55th member in a vote at its annual congress in Budapest.
Recognition by the European body, UEFA, paves the way for FIFA membership for Kosovo in a vote next week in Mexico. That would allow Kosovo to enter qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, a country that refuses to recognize it. (Gibraltar, which won a ruling favoring its own FIFA membership at the Court of Abritration for Sport on Monday, is also likely to enter FIFA next week.)
“We will be able to bring people together through football,” Fadil Vokrri, Kosovo’s federation president and a former international player for Yugoslavia, said. “This is our vision for the future.”
The vote was close, 28 to 24 in favor (two ballots were declared invalid), with opposition being led by Serbia, which, like Russia, does not recognize Kosovo’s independence.
“We must say no to politics,” Tomislav Karadzic, the president of Serbia’s soccer association, told UEFA members in a speech before the vote. “It would create tumult in the region and open a Pandora’s box throughout Europe,” he added. Many Serbs view Kosovo as an inviolable part of its territory.
Ever since fighting a war of independence against the Serbs in the late 1990s, Kosovo has existed in political and cultural limbo. Despite being recognized by a majority of United Nations and European Union…