Albanian Prime Minister announces fundraiser to pay Swiss players' fines

After Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka were fined for celebrating their World Cup goals against Serbia by making a controversial pro-Kosovo hand gesture, an official fundraising effort has been announced by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama to pay the Swiss players’ fines.

Although they are both Swiss nationals, Shaqiri and Xhaka are both of Kosovan-Albanian descent.

The duo was on target last week in Switzerland’s 2-1 Group Stage victory over the Serbs. After scoring their respective goals, both made a double eagle symbol representative of the Albanian flag and Kosovan nationalism. While defenders of Xhaka and Shaqiri have argued that the gesture was merely one of national pride for their heritage, it’s been more widely interpreted as an inflammatory invocation of the bloody conflicts that were fought between the Balkans states in the 1990s, one lingering after effect of which, is Serbia’s refusal to recognize Kosovo as an official state.

Granit Xhaka of Switzerland celebrates scoring a goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group E match between Serbia and Switzerland at Kaliningrad Stadium on June 22, 2018 in Kaliningrad, Russia. (Getty Images)

While FIFA floated the idea of a two-match ban for Shaqiri and Xhaka, soccer’s governing body instead chose to slap the duo with $10,000 fines. A third Swiss player, Stephan Lichtsteiner was also fined $5,000 for joining in the celebrations.

Rami’s Facebook post announcing the fundraiser featured an image of two hands making the controversial eagle gesture, as well as bank account information for where donations could be made.

“Don’t be Afraid of the Eagle is the name of the bank account where everyone can give a symbolic contribution, to pay the absurd fine of FIFA to Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri,” wrote Rami in the post on his Facebook page.

“The sign of the eagle hands is our distinguishing sign of communication in cases of joy and with regret for those who [unintelligible] the mark of joy all spontaneous from a beautiful sports moment. The account opened thanks to the promotion of many friends on this social network from around the world, as thank you and gratitude for two sportsmen who raised weight in a sports job millions of Albanians.”

A gofundme page to help the players pay their fines has also been established.

Kosovan Commerce and Industry Minister, Bajram Hasani reportedly donated $1,750 to the fundraiser.

“The players were punished only since they did not forget their roots, they did not forget where they are coming from,” said Hasani in a remark to local media that was picked up by AFP.

“Money cannot pay the joy that Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri brought us by celebrating with the eagle sign during the Switzerland-Serbia match.”

Whatever your feelings on the politics of the matter may be, it is somewhat ironic that citizens of Kosovo and Albania, two of the poorest countries in Europe, are being asked to foot the bill for players who both earn in the region of $100K a week.

Having avoided a two-match ban, Xhaka and Shaqiri will both be available for selection when Switzerland meets Costa Rica in its final group stage match on Wednesday.

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