This was no April Fool's joke as Bosnia and Herzegovina found themselves banned from international football.
The problem: FIFA/ UEFA does not like the structure of that country's football association which vests powers between three presidents rather than under the more conventional single figurehead.
The reality: Bosnia and Herzegovina, a product of the violent and genocidal "Balkanization" of the former Yugoslovia which gave to the world its first real time exposure to the horrors of "ethnic cleansing" is a country sensitive to the historic need for balance in a complex sharing of power between its major ethnic groups that comprise Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks.
As this article clearly points out, the very genesis of Bosnia and Herzegovina remains the central issue rather than the issue based politics played out elsewhere. The Dayton Framework, the principal charter agreed upon following the cessation of hostilities was primarily a peace accord which created the political entities represented by the Bosnian Serb majority Republic of Sprska and the Croat and Bosniak driven Federation.
The agreement's virtual absence of clearcut administrative directives has created a laissez faire void. The political space is given to fractious identitarian politics with the primary objective delegitimizing the other rather than tackle more pressing issues like corruption.
FIFA's decision is particularly baffling because it is at odds with the political reality of Bosnia and Herzegovina's governance. The tripartite composition of the football body mirrors the national politics with elected representatives from the Serb, Croat, and Bosniak community forming the presidency in a process sanctioned by the European Union's OHR (Office of the High Representative) that implements the political aspects of the agreement.
The EU recognizes this power sharing as instrumental in maintaining the country's political stability however imperfectly. The politically inward thinking FIFA seems to believe that its "one size fits all" is essential to governance.
As it turned out the national football body met in Sarajevo responding to FIFA's request to resolve the presidential impasse but was held hostage by the very identitarianism that consume it's political space. Serbs fearing a loss of their autonomy clamoured for their presidential representation fully knowing that their intransigence could potentially end their country's Euro campaign. They were supported by Croatian secessionists unhappy with the power sharing arrangement between them and the Bosniaks in the Federation.
While sports professionals were disappointed in the federation's failure to conform to FIFA and UEFA rules, the president of the Bosnian Serb region, Milorad Dodik, told reporters that he was "against having one president of anything in Bosnia, even a beekeeper's association."
Soccer has a particularly intimate and at times violent association with Balkan nationalism. It was in the terraces of Partizan Belgrade that Arkan assembled his proto-fascists and embarked on his scorched earth strategy against Bosnian Muslims, leaving a trail of death and destruction. The seeds of Croatian independence were set down on the pitch of Dinamo Zagreb by Zvonimir Boban who became a national hero and captained the national team in the 1998 World Cup. It is hardly surprising that soccer is intertwined with identitarian consciousness and many actors in charge of the sport share a deep and corrupt nexus with the politicians who run the country. The football federation is a cesspool and in need of major reform but that is not why FIFA is going after it.
To punish a country because it fails to adhere to an arbitrary standard shows the depth of political anachronism and arrogance that is a way of life after 40 years of Joao Havelange and Sepp Blatter. Even if that standard flies in the face of the political reality and international law that hold that country together. FIFA will be better served lifting the ban on Bosnia and letting them continue on with their Euro qualifiers.