During last week’s match against Serbia, two ethnic Albanian players on the Swiss team, Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka flashed a provocative hand signal which many Serbian supporters found grossly offensive. Both players celebrated a goal late in the second half by flashing a hand sign intended to represent the double-eagle of the Albanian flag. While many had hoped that Shaqiri and Xhaka would be banned from the remainder of the World Cup due to their hateful actions, FIFA has instead opted to merely fine both players $10,000 each while Swiss captain Stephan Lichtsteiner was fined $5,065 for later joining his teammates in taunting the Serbian side. Even prior to the flashing of the inflammatory hand signals, the match was controversial as Serbian player Alexander Mitrovic was dramatically held down by the opposing team’s players without eliciting any response from the referee.
After the match President of the Serbian FA Slavisa Kokeza commented on the incident, saying of Shaqiri who initiated the provocation,
“We were robbed. I wouldn’t give him either a yellow or red card, I would send him to the Hague. Then they could put him on trial, like they did to us”.
To better contextualise these hang signals, one must understand how football has often become a venue for Albanian ethno-political provocations against Serbia.
Serbia and Albania continue to have incredibly tense geo-political relations due to a Tirana/Washington supported regime in the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija. Rather than downplay these tensions, Albanian football supporters and players have often gone out of their way to up the stakes whenever the two sides clash on the football pitch.
At a match between Albania and Serbia in 2014, the brother of Albanian Premier Edi Rama flew a drone over the pitch bearing the flag of so-called “Greater Albania”. Greater Albania is a controversial movement among Albanian ultra nationalists that seeks the illegal annexation of legally defined Serbian, Montenegrin, Greek and Macedonian territory. The provocation in 2014 caused mass fights to break out both on and off the pitch, resulting in the match being called off and the stadium evacuated.
While Serbs have long sought justice in light of the violent occupation of their land by Albanian secessionist terrorists, FIFA’s decision to fine the offending players at least sends a message that political provocations will not be tolerated at the World Cup.