PRISTINA, Kosovo - An online crowdfunding campaign has been launched to pay the FIFA fines of Switzerland players Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and Stephan Lichtsteiner for celebrating goals with a pro-Kosovo double eagle gesture in their World Cup win over Serbia.
Arsenal midfielder Xhaka and Stoke City's Shaqiri trace their roots to Kosovo, a former province of Serbia with ethnic Albanian majority where thousands were killed during a 1998-1999 conflict between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian guerillas. The double eagle symbol represents the Albanian flag and is viewed as a symbol of defiance in Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008 in a move that Serbia still refuses to recognise.
The players' celebrations in the 2-1 win over Serbia in Kaliningrad on Friday caused outrage in Serbia and drew both praise and criticism in Switzerland. FIFA, whose rules prohibit political symbols in stadiums, fined Xhaka and Shaqiri each 10,000 Swiss francs (8,700 euros, $10,000) and Lichtsteiner 5,000 Swiss francs.
Over $18 500 were gathered less than 24 hours after fundrasier was set up on online fundraising platform, Go Fund Me. Kosovo Commerce and Industry Minister Bajram Hasani said he had donated 1,500 euros, which is his monthly salary.
"They (players) were punished only since they did not forget their roots, they did not forget where they are croming from," Hasani said quoted by local media. "Money cannot pay the joy that Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri brough us by celebrating with the eagle sign their goals during the Switzerland-Serbia match."
Shaqiri was born in 1991 in Kosovo and left it while he was one year old while Xhaqa was born in Switzerland in 1992 in a family originating from Kosovo. His brother Taulant Xhaqa played for Swiss U-21 teams before joining Albania's squad.
Switzerland and Serbia can both still qualify for the last 16 of the World Cup. The Swiss face Costa Rica on Wednesday, when Serbia play Brazil.AFP