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
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.