Football incident could have political ramifications

BELGRADE — The scandal that resulted in the abandoning of a Euro qualifier between Serbia and Albania could have wider implications, the Beta news agency is reporting.

There is now a question mark over the announced visit of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama.

His trip to Belgrade was scheduled for October 22, and he should be the first prime minister of Albania to visit Serbia in 70 years.

However, after it was reported that his brother was the one person responsible for organizing the provocation at the Partizan stadium last night when a map of Greater Albania was displayed, the Priština-based Albanian language daily Gazetta Express writes that “it is possible the visit will not take place.”

B92 has learned that Olsi Rama and several other persons were detained in the VIP lounge of the stadium last night, but were then released and allowed to return to Tirana. Once back in Albania, Rama denied that he was responsible for the incident.

It is not known what happened during those 40 minutes at the Partizan stadium, but it is believed that Rama showed his United States passport to the police. This was confirmed by the media in Tirana as well, who said he was “not the only one with a U.S. passport,” as “the documents of three other people were also checked.”

The embassy of Albania in Belgrade, meanwhile, did not wish to offer any comment on last night’s events, Beta said.

As for Serbian officials, so far public reactions have come from Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić, Minister of Sport Vanja Udovičić, and Labor Minister Aleksandar Vulin.

Judging by their statements it is clear that official Belgrade sees the whole event in a much broader context than that of football, with the issue immediately transferred to the political field concerning relations between Serbia and Albania, as well as the relationship between Serbia, Russia, and the West.

Dačić said the incident was a planned political provocation, while according to Udovičić “a brutal abuse of sports was seen in action, for which extremists bear the responsibility.” Vulin said he had the impression that “all this has to do with the arrival of Vladimir Putin in Belgrade and with the military parade. ”

Ahead of the game played as part of European championship qualifiers UEFA banned Albanian supporters from traveling to Serbia, but according to unofficial information obtained by B92 a group of people wearing Albanian markings entered the country, and then the stadium – and this happened after an intervention “from diplomatic circles.”

Unofficially, this intervention came from the Albanian embassy. Some Belgrade media are today reporting that other diplomats were also involved, with some articles naming the head of the EU mission in Belgrade, Michael Davenport, as the culprit.

Davenport on Wednesday took to Twitter to dismiss the allegations as “fabrications,” posting this message in Serbian:

“There’s no point to comment on fabrications… The government last night explained to us its actions regarding the Albanian fans. I did not insist on anything. I condemn the violence and political provocations last night at the stadium. It is now up to the governments here and in Tirana to demonstrate courage and responsibility and that such actions will not divert them from the European path.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also commented on Twitter: “Irresponsible provocation at Serbia-Albania football match. I hope the two PM’s will see the need to move forward in bilateral links.”

The match between Serbia and Albania was abandoned after the scandalous provocation staged by the visiting Albanian fans, who used a remotely guided craft to fly a map of Greater Albania above the pitch. The incident happened near the end of the first half when the result was 0:0.

UEFA will in the coming days announce its decision regarding the game and whether disciplinary procedures will be launched, and against whom. Despite initial speculation, this decision will not be made in urgent procedure.