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‘Don’t be afraid of the eagle’ Albanian PM opens bank account for Swiss players’ FIFA fines

Switzerland's midfielder Granit Xhaka, center, celebrates after scoring a goal with team mates

Switzerland's midfielder Granit Xhaka, center, celebrates with team mates after scoring a goal against Serbia last Friday

(Keystone)

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has opened a bank account to enable people to make a “symbolic contribution” towards the fines FIFA handed to two Swiss football players of ethnic Albanian heritage for their “double-headed black eagle” hand gestures during a match against Serbia.

In a Facebook postexternal link on Tuesday, Rama said he had opened an account at Raiffeisen Bank entitled “Don’t Be Afraid of the Eagle” and urged Albanians “to pay FIFA’s absurd fine on Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri”.

World football’s governing body on Monday fined the players CHF10,000 ($10,130) each – and Switzerland’s captain Lichtsteiner CHF5,000 – for “unsporting behaviour contrary to the principles of fair-play”. 

Xhaka and Shaqiri had sparked controversy in their goal celebrations during their 2-1 victory over Serbia in the 2018 World Cup on Friday. The pair put their open hands together to mimic the double-headed black eagle on the Albanian flag. Lichtsteiner also made the gesture during the match. Serbs were unimpressed.

Xhaka and Shaqiri have ethnic Albanian heritage linked to Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognise that independence.

+ Swiss footballers fined by FIFA for Albanian double-eagle gesture

Rama wrote on his Facebook page that the bank account was a gesture of “thanks and gratitude to the two sportsmen” who brought joy to millions of Albanians. 

Several Kosovo Albanians, including officials, have also reportedly offered to contributeexternal link towards paying the fines. Rilind Reka, an Albanian living in New York, launched a gofundmeexternal link campaign, urging Albanians to contribute to paying the fines. By Tuesday evening, it had surpassed his target of $25,000 (CHF24,743) in pledges.         

The incident at the World Cup game prompted parts of the Swiss press to revive old debates and questions about how Swiss the national team really is.

Also on Monday, the Serbian FA was fined CHF54,000 and warned for a “display of discriminatory banners and messages” by fans, while its president Slavisa Kokeza and national team coach Mladen Krstajic were fined CHF5,000 each and warned for comments they made after the game. 

SDA-ATS/AFP/AP/sb

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