FIFA welcomes Kosovo, Gibraltar as newest members

Mexico City, May 14 (IANS) Football’s world governing body FIFA has voted here to admit Kosovo and Gibraltar and make them eligible for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

Delegates to the 66th FIFA Congress on Friday voted 141-23 to admit Kosovo as the organization’s 210th member, while Gibraltar became the 211th member by a vote of 172-12, reports Efe.

FIFA’s executive arm initially rejected Gibraltar’s application, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled last month that the question of membership for the Rock had to be put to a vote at the Congress.

Gibraltar, a British Crown Colony with only 32,000 residents, is at the centre of a dispute between London and Madrid, which claims sovereignty over the territory at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula.

“Many of you may not even know where Gibraltar is,” the head of the territory’s football association, Michael Llamas, said as he thanked the delegates for approving admission.

“As a small country we are realistic about what we can achieve on the pitch but that is not the point … The point is that our many children who love our sport and who now will be the first generation of Gibraltarians to grow up with FIFA membership … they will be able to dream,” he said.

The head of Kosovo’s federation, also in Mexico City for the FIFA Congress, was similarly grateful.

“I sincerely and warmly thank you for this decision,” Fadil Vokrri said. “In a region still ravaged by the horrors of history, football will give a better life to communities of Kosovo.”

Kosovo, a province of Serbia which became a virtual United States and NATO protectorate following a 1998-1999 conflict between Serbian forces and the ethnic Albanian majority, unilaterally declared independence from Belgrade in 2008.

The Serbian soccer federation has said it will bring a legal challenge to FIFA’s decision to admit Kosovo.

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