Monthly Archives: October 2012

Step’anakert is well worth a match

The Step’anakert Stadium – Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/blackwych/

Damiano Benzoni

The two teams enter the field, their flags ahead of them. On the right the home teams’ red, blue and orange tricolour with a white zig-zag chevron, on the left the seven alternate green and white stripes with a red canton depicting a white hand and seven stars, the flag of the guests. Then, the teams align themselves for the national anthems. The green jerseys of Abkhazia sing Aiaaira, “Victory”, while the red jerseys of the hosts Nagorno-Karabakh sing Azat ow ankax Arc’ax, “Free and Independent Arc’ax (or Artsakh)”, referring to the ancient name of their nation when – between 189 b.C. and 387 A.D. – it used to be a province of the Kingdom of Armenia. On the terrace, some supporters hold a banner: UEFA, we also want to play football. The two squads are the national teams of two de facto independent unrecognised countries. Two countries fighting to have their sovereignty recognised by the international community. Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh mutually recognise each other and have such agreement with two other post-Soviet breakaway republics, South Ossetia and Transnistria. While Abkhazia is also recognised by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, Nagorno-Karakakh isn’t recognised by any UN member. Continue reading

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Tajikistan: All the president’s son’s men

Photo: Футбол Тоҷикистон http://footballtj.wordpress.com

Damiano Benzoni

Rustam Èmomalī used to be a striker for two-time Tajik champions Istiķlol Dušanbe, a team of which he has been captain, president, owner and founder. In November 2010 he was named vice-president of the Tajik FA and later was unanimously voted president. He is part of the FIFA Committee for Development and is the representative of Tajikistan at the Asian Olympic Council. In 2011 he left his political party in order to take up a post as the head of the state customs agency department responsible for fighting smuggling and custom violations: a huge responsibility since Tajikistan is crossed by traffic of heroin and opiates coming from bordering Afghanistan. In the past he was a member of the Dušanbe city council, a counsellor for the State Committee on Investments and State Property, a member of the executive committee of the ruling party and a deputy chairman of the Youth Union – the organisation which took the place of the Soviet Komsomol. Rustam Èmomalī is the son of Èmomalī Rahmon, the authoritarian president of Tajikistan. According to some observers, he’s his designed heir. Continue reading

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Gibraltar, a colony in UEFA

Damiano Benzoni

“The Gibraltar FA is pleased to announce that it has today been granted provisional membership of UEFA at a meeting of the European football governing body’s Executive Committee in St.Petersburg, Russia. The vote on the Gibraltar FA’s full membership of UEFA will take place on the 24th May 2013 during the XXXVII Congress to be held in London, England”. Alea iacta est: this is how the Gibraltar FA announced – through a press release – the reaching of one of its goals, the status of provisional UEFA member. The territory which, facing the Moroccan coast, controls the choke point governing access to the Mediterranean Sea still preserves the status of British colony, since the Royal Navy conquered it in 1704. The status was confirmed through two referendums in 1967 and 2002. Since 2006 the colony enjoys home rule and refers defence and foreign affairs matters to the United Kingdom, but already in 1997 the GFA, which was founded in 1895 as an FA affiliate, asked admission to FIFA. Continue reading

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Kosovo, sovereignty and football

Foto: Toto Marti

Damiano Benzoni

Lucerne. The Swissporarena is filled with Albanian and Kosovar supporters, two times as much as the home team supporters, for the World Cup qualifier between Switzerland and Albania. Three players, the white cross of Switzerland on their chests, remain silent during the confederate anthem. One of them, Xherdan Shaqiri, has three flags embroidered on his shoes: Switzerland, Albania and Kosovo. Shaqiri himself will uneven the score in the 23rd minute of the game, won by the Swiss 2-0 and recounted on the New York Times by James Montague. Shaqiri and his two team-mates, Granit Xhaka and Valon Behrami, are among the 300 thousand Kosovar Albanians (a sixth of the population of the balcanic nation nowadays) who sought refuge in Switzerland during the nineties. For them, Switzerland – Albania is a particular match, played the day after their country reached full sovereignity. Moreover, the match was played as Kosovo waited for a crucial decision on behalf of the FIFA Executive Committee. Continue reading

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