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25 Feb, 2019 15:45

UEFA strips Spain of youth qualifying games over Kosovo stance

UEFA strips Spain of youth qualifying games over Kosovo stance

European football’s governing body UEFA has moved Under-17 European Championship qualifying games from Spain after the country refused to recognize the national symbols of Kosovo.

Spain was due to host Group Five matches featuring its own team as well as Greece, Kosovo and Ukraine.

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However, following UEFA’s announcement to strip Spain of the hosting rights, the matches will most likely be played in Switzerland next month.

UEFA said it decided to relocate the four-team matches from the Spanish cities Benidorm and Alcoy because "the national symbols (flag and anthem) of Kosovo are not authorized" by the Spanish government, which doesn’t recognize it as an independent state.

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It’s not the first time Spain has been embroiled in a dispute over Kosovo’s status – last November, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) took actions against the country, recommending that international sports federations not stage events there unless it guarantees equal participation to all competitors, including athletes from Kosovo.

Back then, the Spanish government prohibited Kosovan participants from competing under their flag at the 2018 Karate World Championships in Madrid.

Kosovan athletes were allowed to take part in the competition, but were obliged to wear a ‘neutral’ uniform without displaying national emblems.

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Following the IOC’s warning, the Spanish government vowed to respect all athletes and provide full and equal rights to Kosovan competitors.

Recognition of Kosovo remains a burning issue for Spain, whose own territory, Catalonia, voted to separate from the kingdom in an unsanctioned referendum held in the fall of 2017.

Russia is also among the countries that do not recognize Kosovo as an independent state.