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Swiss Players' Pro-Kosovo Celebration Triggers Fines But No Ban From Soccer

Switzerland players Granit Xhaka (left) and Xherdan Shaqiri making the eagle emblem of Albania during their World Cup game against Serbia.

Soccer's world governing body FIFA has fined two Switzerland players for making politically and ethnically suggestive hand gestures to celebrate World Cup goals against Serbia, but the two were cleared to continue playing soccer.

FIFA, which bans all political messages or symbols in stadiums, said on June 25 that Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri received warnings and fine of $10,100 each for unsporting behavior.

Switzerland on June 22 defeated Serbia 2-1 on goals by Xhaka and Shaqiri, both of whom are ethnic Albanians with roots in Kosovo, a former province of Serbia that declared independence in 2008.

FIFA's disciplinary panel had the power to impose two-match bans on the players if their actions were judged to have provoked the public.

The two players made gestures that evoke the double-headed eagle of the Albanian flag after scoring goals against Serbia, which has never recognized Kosovo's independence despite its recognition by 116 other countries.

Kosovo has an ethnic Albanian majority and many people there identify with the flag, but Serbs view it as an act of defiance. Relations between Kosovo and Serbia have been strained by the independence issue and ethnic rivalries for years.

After the game on June 23, the online version of the Serbian newspaper Blic wrote that the players' gestures "shamefully provoked our fans."

The gestures also prompted a rebuke from Switzerland's coach and triggered the FIFA investigation.

But both players defended their celebrations on the field as spontaneous and personal outpourings at a moment of high emotion for them and their team.

Their celebrations were joined on the day of the game by Swiss captain Stephan Lichtsteiner -- an act that got him a $5,050 fine from FIFA on June 25.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP