Kosovo ethnic divide tackled on rugby pitch
Feb. 05, 2014
MITROVICA, Kosovo (AP) — They've been roughing each other up for over a century, but now Serbs and Albanians in this ethnically divided city are learning to work together through a sport that is all about gaining territory: rugby.
French, Irish and American trainers have helped youths from both sides of the divide to set up Kosovo Roosters Rugby Club, the country's first.
Jeremie Zeitoun, 29, a French aid worker who gave up his job with an international aid group to focus on training the team, says they already have staged two international games: one against Montenegro and the other against Albania.
"We lost the first one. We won the second one," he said, during a recent training practice at an indoor pitch in Mitrovica. The training started a year ago and now players train each weekend.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade rejects the move and has vowed to block its former province from establishing itself as a state. Serbia has objected to Kosovo competing internationally as a country in any sport, and rugby is likely to face similar challenges.
For Denis Dauti, an ethnic Albanian who is the president of the Kosovo Roosters Rugby Club, the idea came from countries with similar divides — such as Northern Ireland or South Africa — whose opposing sides came together for the sake of the sport.
"I believe we have managed to some extent," Dauti said, throwing a glance at an ethnic mix of players on the pitch.
Nenad Todorovic, 33, a Serb student in northern Mitrovica, said that while you can really hurt somebody during the game, "the other guy can hurt you as well, so you have to take care."