KFOR Chronicle
Irish Bring Unity Through Soccer Match

Getting the K-Albanian and K-Serb population to participate jointly in anything in Kosovo is a puzzle that the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) remains focused on, but Charlie Company of the Fin/Irl Battle Group achieved this during a visit to Robovce Village. Capt Shane Rockett P.I.O. Fin/Irl Battle Group reports…

On Saturday the 14th of July 2004 CIMIC members of Charlie Company and the 28th Inf Group organized a 5 A Side soccer competition between the Irish KFOR troops and the K-Albanian and K-Serb population of Robovce at the playground in the center of the village.

The playground itself was a few months previously, out of use and surrounded by barb-wire because the K-Albanian and K-Serb population could not agree with each other on how to use the playground. Each side of the village argued over who had the right to use playground and this often broke out into violent confrontations between the K-Serbs and K-Albanians.

As a result the playground was out of bounds to both groups until they could reach an agreement and use the playground without causing friction between each other. Of course it was the children of the village who were losing out by not being able to use the facility which Kosovo-wide, are few and far between.

The CIMIC team from Camp Clarke, consisting of Sgt's Chris Cummins and Niall Jacobs, began to try and find a solution to this problem and set about trying to get both sides to put aside their differences and use the playground equally, fairly and above all, without conflict.

The preparations and delicate negotiations which took place prior to the competition was an excellent example of the hard work and effort that both NCO's put into bringing the two sides together and making the K-Serbs and K-Albanians put aside their differences for a few hours at least. When you see two sides of the ethnic divide in Kosovo coming together and playing soccer for a few hours, united by the spirit of fair play and of course competition, it confirms the old adage that "good sportsmanship crosses all boundaries".

The fact that this was a competition with medals made it an even more interesting contest, because the Irish don't like to be defeated any more than the K-Albanian or K-Serbs. The Irish went into this competition as holders of the KFOR 5 a-side Saint Leslie Cup and were determined to carry on that good fortune in Robovce. However the citizens of Kosovo have a love for soccer and everywhere you go out here you see children and adults kicking a ball. Even the sight of a local derby match between two village teams shows the amount of passion that the Kosovar's have for this sport. This passion and elements of local flair and skill were carried in to the competition in Robovce.

In fact, the skill of the locals matched any the Irish had to offer. The highlight of the afternoon had to be the match between the K-Albanian and K-Serb teams. This was a monumental moment because both sets of the ethnic divide refused point blank to allow either ethnicity to use the court in the months leading up to this point and now they were playing each other! It took a lot of convincing on behalf of the CIMIC team and a willingness by the locals to play this game. The match was refereed by Pte Ken Hennessey, a qualified League of Ireland referee -- and just as well -- since a steady hand was needed for this match. The game itself was played in good spirit and supported in large numbers by the local village children.

Between matches the local kids of Robovce were entertained by the troops of Charlie Company who organized various games and music for the children. This included a game involving kicking a ball into a drum from a distance of a few metres. The local kids enjoyed these games and were determined in their efforts, as the prize for succeeding in their task was a Mars Bar and can of Coke. The 5 a-side soccer competition was interrupted by a torrential rain shower which meant all remaining games had to be rescheduled for another day.

The rest and reflection obviously rejuvenated the K-Albanian team who when play resumed a few days later, swept all before them to win the competition outright by beating a team from Charlie Company in the final. The winner's medals were presented by O.C. Charlie Company, Comdt Kieran Brennan, to the winning K-Albanian team from Robovce and the competition was deemed a success by all concerned. The true winners of this competition were the K-Albanian and K-Serb citizens who played with great sportsmanship. This competition was an example of the good work being done in Multi National Brigade Centre by Irish KFOR troops and would not have taken place without the drive and enthusiasm of the CIMIC team from Charlie Company, Fin/Irl BG. Hopefully now we have laid the ground-work for future games.