UEFA tightens rules on Kosovo, but leaves loopholes

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — UEFA is tightening its rules to stop countries which don't recognize Kosovo from excluding its national soccer team, but left some loopholes.

"This policy obliges all other teams to accept to play against Kosovo national and club teams as the result of a draw, be it on their own territory or on the territory of Kosovo," UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said Wednesday.

While the new rule addresses home-and-away games in qualifying, it didn't specify what happens if Kosovo and Spain advance to the 2020 European Championship.

Kosovo is assured of at least a place in the Euro 2020 qualifying playoffs next March, putting it within two games of advancing to its first major tournament. Four of the 12 nations hosting games in next year's tournament — Azerbaijan, Romania, Russia and Spain — don't recognize Kosovo's independence from Serbia.

Spain's refusal to recognize the flag and anthem of Kosovo forced UEFA in February to move qualifying games in its Under-17 European Championship. Instead, an entire four-team qualifying group which Spain was to host had to be played near UEFA's headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.

That snub by Spain broke a promise its government made to the International Olympic Committee last November to respect the rights of athletes from Kosovo.

Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 is still not formally recognized by some European countries which have their own issues with separatist regions.

UEFA later clarified that the policy decided by its executive committee Wednesday will allows countries which don't want to host Kosovo to have their home game moved to a neutral country.

Ukraine did that with a 2018 World Cup qualifier, which was moved to Poland in October 2016.

Kosovo will continue to be separated in qualifying draws from teams which it will not play for security reasons — currently Serbia and Bosnia-Herezegovina.

Kosovo is recognized by all its opponents in its current European Championship qualifying group — Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Montenegro, as well as the British government for England.

In a concession to Spain on Wednesday, UEFA promoted its soccer federation president, Luis Rubiales, to be a vice president of the European soccer body's executive committee, replacing Reinhard Grindel of Germany.

Grindel resigned his UEFA and FIFA positions in April, under pressure from German media for undeclared earnings and accepting the gift of a watch from a UEFA colleague from Ukraine.

The FIFA Council seat held by Grindel was awarded to French soccer federation president Noel le Graet until an election of UEFA members next March.

The 77-year-old Le Graet is too old by UEFA rules to be voted onto its executive committee, which has an age limit of 70 for candidates. However, he can represent UEFA as one of its FIFA delegates for several months.

Le Graet has been an outspoken critic of a clubs-backed plan for a more closed-shop Champions League in 2024, where up to 24 mostly storied and wealthy teams would retain their group-stage places year-on-year. The French official's nine-month stint close to the heart of decision-making is scheduled to overlap exactly with UEFA's consultations to agree reforms in its club competitions.

Ceferin said he hoped to call a meeting within weeks between UEFA's executive committee, the influential European Club Association and the European Leagues group of national leagues who oppose the clubs' proposal.


AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report


More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP\_Sports

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