FIFA has announced that it has opened an investigation into Switzerland players Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka in light of both players’ politically charged goal celebrations during Switzerland’s 2-1 win over Serbia yesterday.
Both celebrations, which involved the hand gesture you can see above known as the Albanian eagle, were references to Shaqiri’s and Xhaka’s Kosovar Albanian heritage. Albanians were a persecuted minority of the former Yugoslavia, and the tensions between them and Serbians remain. Kosovo, the national home of many Albanians, only declared independence from Serbia and Montenegro in 2008. The Albanian eagle hand gesture is meant to mirror the two-headed eagle depicted on the Albanian flag.
Shaqiri was born in Kosovo before his family fled for Switzerland. Xhaka was born in Switzerland to Albananian parents, one of whom served time in Yugoslavian prison for protesting against the government. Another of Switzerland’s starters yesterday, Valon Behrami, is also of Kosovar descent.
Because of this fraught sociopolitical history between Albanians and Serbians, yesterday’s Switzerland-Serbia match was always ripe for controversy. Setting things off in typically disgusting soccer fan fashion were some Serbian fans who wore shirts with the face of Ratko Mladić, a genocidal war criminal of the Yugoslavian army. Serbian fans also booed Shaqiri and Xhaka on the pitch.
Shaqiri and Xhaka responded to the tense atmosphere in the best way possible. Xhaka scored a wondergoal to tie the match up early in the second half, and Shaqiri scored the winner in the 90th minute. Both players celebrated their badass goals with the same eagle hand gesture.
When asked to explain their celebrations after the game, both Xhaka and Shaqiri mentioned how the gestures were a reflection of their emotional responses to the events of and surrounding the match. From the Guardian:
“Frankly, my opponents did not interest me at all,” Xhaka said. “It was for my people, who always supported me. For those who did not neglect me, in my homeland, where my parents’ roots are. These were purely emotions.”
Shaqiri, who plays for Stoke City, admitted that he was not allowed to talk about “politics” and insisted the celebration was “just emotion”. As he went through the stadium’s mixed zone he grew irritated at the questioning, replying “let’s not talk about this” and walking out when again asked what the significance of the celebration was.
“It was a fantastic goal, an important goal for my team and I am very proud I was able to score it for them,” Shaqiri said. “I can’t discuss the gesture I’m afraid. We are footballers, not politicians… Emotions sometimes take over footballers and there was a lot of emotion out there.”
You might imagine that a couple guys playing in one of the biggest games of their lives, up against a team representing a country with so much personal and historical baggage for them, all while being antagonized by the opposing fans with boos and the image of a murderous war criminal, and rejoicing in their enormous goals by doing a harmless little thing with their hands would be beneath FIFA’s concern. You’d be wrong.
The gestures themselves are probably fine under FIFA’s rules, as are the Kosovo flags stitched into Shaqiri’s boots, but FIFA does have a provision meant to prevent players from “provoking the general public.” If FIFA hits Shaqiri and/or Xhaka with that, they could be suspended for up to two matches. A suspension for this gesture would be beyond stupid, which if anything makes it all the more likely that the morons at FIFA respond with a suspension.
Shaqiri and Xhaka weren’t the only participants in that match to be placed under investigation, however. Serbia’s manager, Mladen Krstajić, will also be investigated due to these bizarre comments in reference to a penalty he believes his team deserved but didn’t receive:
“We were robbed,” he said. “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.”
Krstajic also posted photographs from the match on his Instagram account, accompanied by the comment: “Unfortunately, it seems that only the Serbs are condemned to a selective justice, once (it was) the damned Hague and today in football the VAR...”
What the World Cup needs is more deep-seated sociopolitical angst, and less FIFA interventions in what are essentially benign gestures that celebrate players’ feats and personal heritages.