BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) Kosovo was given UEFA membership Tuesday, and could now be fast-tracked into FIFA and the 2018 World Cup qualifying program.
UEFA’s member federations voted 28-24 to accept the former province of Serbia, which led the opposition. Two votes were declared invalid.
The UEFA congress also elected Florence Hardouin, the French soccer federation’s marketing director, as a member of its executive committee.
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UEFA met without its president, Michel Platini, who should get a verdict next Monday from CAS in his appeal against a six-year ban by FIFA. Platini and former FIFA president Sepp Blatter were sanctioned over a $2 million payment the former France great received in 2011 as uncontracted and backdated salary.
Whatever the CAS decision on Platini’s fate, France ensured itself of a spot on UEFA’s executive committee with Hardouin’s election. By defeating Karen Espelund of Norway 33-21, Hardouin becomes the first elected female member of the panel and will serve a three-year mandate until executive elections in 2019.
Kosovo has sought international recognition through sports since declaring independence from Serbia in 2008.
Fadil Vokrri, president of the Football Federation of Kosovo, said the result was a “historic moment.”
“We will be able to bring people together through football on the pitch and around the pitch,” Vokrri said. “This is our vision for the future as the 55th member association of UEFA.”
Before the vote, Serbian soccer federation president Tomislav Karadzic said the decision on Kosovo was a “political vote, not a footballing proposal.”
With Kosovo’s UEFA membership, “politics would abuse football in the harshest possible way,” Karadzic said.
UEFA supported Kosovo’s case after resisting previous efforts by FIFA in 2012 to let its national and clubs teams play opponents from other countries.
A breakthrough came in January 2014 when FIFA ruled that teams from Kosovo could play international matches, except against teams from other parts of the former Yugoslavia.
Kosovo needs to be accepted as a FIFA member before it can enter a World Cup qualifying group, which kicks off in September.
FIFA’s ruling council will meet in Mexico City on Monday, and can send Kosovo’s application for a decision by the FIFA congress four days later.
Earlier at the congress, FIFA President Gianni Infantino urged European soccer leaders to give money to poorer federations from the increased funds they get from Zurich.
“Give it to other federations around the world if you don’t need the money,” Infantino told the 54 UEFA member federations at their annual congress.
All FIFA members should get big increases in their annual grant to fulfil a key election promise by Infantino.
The FIFA president was elected in February after promising to give each member federation $5 million every four years from World Cup revenues. That pledge would more than double the $2.05 million that each FIFA member received in the four-year cycle tied to the 2014 World Cup.
European federations earn much more than other countries as UEFA, the richest of the six continental confederations, pays even more to its members than they get from FIFA.
“You in Europe, we can show together, we can make a difference in the world,” said Infantino, who served UEFA members as general secretary for seven years. “With very little we can achieve a lot.”
Infantino noted that FIFA could add two European federations to its membership at its own congress in Mexico City next week. The admission of Kosovo and Gibraltar would likely be added to the world soccer body’s agenda, Infantino said.
On Monday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ordered FIFA to stop blocking Gibraltar’s application for membership and allow it “without delay.”
Gibraltar, a British territory whose sovereignty is disputed by neighboring Spain, has been a UEFA member since 2013 and played in the qualifying program for the 2016 European Championship.
Like Kosovo, Gibraltar could be fast-tracked by FIFA into 2018 World Cup qualifying groups.
Regarding Platini’s situation, UEFA has called an emergency meeting of its executive committee in two weeks to weigh options after the Platini verdict, UEFA and FIFA vice president Angel Maria Villar told the congress.
The meeting will be in Basel, Switzerland, on the sidelines of the Europa League final on May 18.
If a presidential election is needed to replace Platini, the most likely date is mid-September in Athens, Greece, at an already-scheduled meeting of European soccer leaders.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar reported from Geneva.