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Bosnia football ban to level the playing field for minorities? (Part 2)

13 April 2011

Part 2 of a blog from Michelle Chan, who interns with MRG’s Legal Cases Programme, on UEFA’s controversial decision to ban Bosnia from international football. See Part 1.

UEFA has announced that Bosnia will be banned from international football competitions as of 1 April 2011, due to the refusal of the national football federation (NSFBiH) to change its ethnic-based tripartite system, which mirrors the state system by rotating the presidency between a Serb, Croat and ethnic Muslim.

A bold move against a promising team, with little control over the state-wide division of powers borne from the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the brutal conflict in 1995.

“[A]gainst having one president of anything in Bosnia, even a beekeeper’s association,” remarked Milorad Dodik, president of the Bosnian Serb region, to reporters after the announcement.

But Bosnia has made significant developments since 1995, joining the Council of Europe in 2002 and ratifying the European Convention of Human Rights and its Protocol without reservation, thus voluntarily agreeing to meet relevant standards including non-discrimination.

In 2008, Bosnia ratified the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union, committing itself to “amend electoral legislation regarding members of [its] Presidency” within one to two years. The European Court of Human Rights in a 2009 judgment points out these developments, suggesting that although the time may not be ripe for single majority rule in Bosnia, alternatives exist to make the system less discriminatory.

Reactions from football fans and commentators have been mixed: some remarking that football bodies should stay out of state politics, while others lament the corruption perceived to dominate the leadership of the NSFBiH.

It seems until some progress can be made towards alleviating Bosnia’s discriminatory power-sharing mechanisms, everybody loses. As coach, Ivica Osim told Bosnian media: “Only in football have we been able to attain a European level but unfortunately, everything else that’s wrong in the country has caught up with the game.”

This article reflects the sole opinion of its author and does not engage MRG’s responsibility.