Miloš Marković –
The beginning of 2017 has brought disappointing and frustrating news for FK Partizan and Serbian football in general.
Days after the world football players’ union, FIFPro warned players not to sign contracts with Serbian clubs in the January transfer window and labelled Serbia as a “lawless environment.” Belgrade’s Black-and-Whites have been banned from European competition by UEFA for the next three seasons because the Serbian club has broken rules over unpaid debts three times in the last five years.
The European governing body has lost patience for repeat offenders and is using Partizan to set an example—much to disappointment of the Serbian side.
In order to understand the full scope of the repercussions UEFA’s decision will have on one of Serbia’s greatest clubs, one needs to dig deep into the corruption that surrounds Serbian club football.
Partizan – Socialist Legacy
Ever since the dissolution of the republic of Yugoslavia—the former union of today’s sovereign and independent Balkan countries still longed-for by a nostalgic lot—football in all the separate pieces of a once great country is struggling to adapt to contemporary sport conditions enjoyed in other more prominent parts of Europe.
To this date, Communist laws and socialist legacy remain the biggest problems that prevent Serbian football from catching up with its European peers.
Poor infrastructure and economic problems throughout the entire country are hindering progress in the sporting sector of Serbia’s everyday life, and are pushing even the biggest football clubs to the edge of extinction.
In order to survive, Serbia’s biggest clubs—Partizan and Crvena Zvezda (Red Star)—are still relying on a significant level of help from the government. Still state-owned organizations, Serbian football clubs continue to wait for the new Sports Act, which would alleviate the current laws on privatization in Sport, which—with all of its pros and cons—remains the only viable solution to the problem of saving the Serbian sport.
In addition to state aid, Serbian football clubs survive by selling their most talented players who, more often than not, leave the nest before their wings have been fully developed, and find their football careers lost in the overwhelming world of competitive European football.
The third significant source of income, mainly for Partizan and Crvena Zvezda,is participation in European competitions. The fact that both clubs are able to fill almost their entire year’s budgets through qualification into the group stages of either UEFA Champions League or of UEFA Europa League, makes it easy to understand that the enforcement of the UEFA suspension could affect Partizan dearly.
Draconian Punishment for Partizan
It may not appear so, but the three-season suspension truly is a draconian punishment for FK Partizan. Before we all, in the spirit of sportsmanlike sympathy, take pity on the Belgrade club, however, we should know that Black-and-Whites did bring it on themselves.
While the Board and management were engaged in the last year’s heated presidential bickering, which at times threatened to become violent, little was done to improve the financial stability of the club that had been struggling for years to keep their balances clean.
FK Partizan failed to recognise the importance and future consequences of their last UEFA debt case from 2013, when the Serbian club were given a suspended one-year ban from European competition, and instead continued to go on with their dealings in their usual carefree manner.
Such an untroubled approach had become the part of Partizan’s nature and it reflects the nation’s character as well—the Belgrade greats appear to have been convinced, thus far, that the government will always find a solution to their undisciplined behaviour.
The first news of the UEFA suspensions caused great shock throughout the Serbian public, but the nation’s disbelief was not met with the same reaction from the Partizan officials.
UEFA’s claims that Partizan owed €2.5 million in unpaid debts as of September 2016— with the majority of debts owed to social and tax authorities in Serbia—were met by calming counterclaims by Partizan General Manager, Miloš Vazura, who attempted to convince the fans that everything would be settled and that there was no reason to worry.
The club went on to issue a public statement on the matter, saying that the Football Club Partizan, “will pay all of its financial obligations in the amount of €370,000 as per UEFA’s request to continue with the licencing process”.
The statement added, “Unpaid debt claims, which were published in some media, were regulated via the official debt consolidation programme which has already been submitted to UEFA”. Finally, the club stated that the Serbian government offered “unconditional and heartfelt support to solve the newly emerged problems”.
An official public statement from UEFA followed, that made Partizan’s efforts to calm the storm look like a clear case of self-denial.
“The CFCB adjudicatory decision regarding FK Partizan confirms that the club will be excluded from participating in the next (1) UEFA club competition for which it would otherwise qualify during the next three (3) seasons. This decision was taken after FK Partizan failed to comply with Articles 65(1), 66(1) and 66bis(1) of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair-Play Regulations”, the UEFA statement read.
Partizan president, Milorad Vučelić, finally addressed the public after the eyes of the sport-loving part of the Serbian population had been focused on Partizan for the good part of the week.
Speaking on the club’s TV channel, the Partizan president decided to drop his guard and revealled that the club had been informed of the imminent punishment some twenty days before its official announcement, and added that legal steps had been taken in order to solve the situation.
Vučelić remains hopeful Partizan will play Europe next season. Although slim, reasons to feel optimistic do exist while the club waits for a response to the appeal sent to the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport).
The court in Lausanne remains Partizan’s last resort, and the Black-and-Whites are hoping that the CAS could go on to overturn the UEFA’s decision.
Such an outcome would not be unprecedented, and Serbia remembers the most recent example when UEFA’s decision on the notorious game in Belgrade between Serbia in Albania was overturned in Albania’s favour.
It is a far stretch, but it is the only possible way to avoid getting suspended from Europe at this point.
A holder of Master’s degree in English language and literature, Miloš Marković worked as the Editor-in-Chief at Sportske.net. He now contributes to various outlets as a freelance journalist including the excellent homepage Baraž. Passionate about English language and football, Miloš Marković is also a huge Premier League fan. You can find him on Twitter under @milosemarkovicu.