A crowdfunding campaign has secured sufficient pledges to be able to pay the fines FIFA handed to three Swiss football players for their “double-headed black eagle” hand gestures during a recent 2-1 victory over Serbia in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
At the time of writing, the gofundmeexternal link campaign, launched on June 25 by Rilind Reka, an Albanian living in New York, had raised $26,981 (CHF26,723) in 24 hours, surpassing his target of $25,000.
Reka launched the fundraising initiative to raise money for Swiss players Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and Stephan Lichtsteiner. FIFA had fined Xhaka and Shaqiri CHF10,000 ($10,130) each – and Swiss captain Lichtsteiner CHF5,000 – for “unsporting behaviour contrary to the principles of fair-play”, referring to their “double-headed black eagle” celebrations during last Friday’s 2-1 victory over Serbia in Group E.
The Serbs were unimpressed by the symbol, which appears on the Albanian national flag. Xhaka and Shaqiri – but not Lichtsteiner – have ethnic Albanian heritage linked to Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia does not recognise that independence.
Don’t fear the eagle
On his gofundme page Reka said Swiss players had "brought joy and happiness to all Swiss and Albanians across the globe”.
He added: “If the Swiss Football Association does not accept the funds raised, we will gladly donate all the money to a charity of their choosing.”
Help in paying the fines has also come from other sources. In a Facebook postexternal link on Tuesday, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said he had opened a bank account to pay the fines, entitled “Don’t Be Afraid of the Eagle”. Several Kosovo Albanians, including officials, have also reportedly offered to contributeexternal link money.
On Tuesday, Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami, who grew up in northern Kosovo, assured reporters in Russia that the eagle gestures would not happen again in the future, adding “for us now it is case closed”.
Attention now returns to the pitch. On Wednesday, Switzerland is hoping for a place in the knockout phase of the World Cup in the final group match against Costa Rica. In Group E Brazil and Switzerland have four points apiece, Serbia has three, and any of them could grab one of the group's two spots in the knockout stage.
Switzerland will reach the round of 16 with at least a draw.