Albanian Prime Minister opens account to pay Switzerland players’ FIFA fines

The prime minister of Albania has opened a bank account to allow his country’s people to offer their “symbolic contribution” to pay the fines levied against two Switzerland players.

The account, named “Don’t Be Afraid of the Eagle,” was opened at Raiffeisen Bank by Prime Minister Edi Rama, who urged Albanians “to pay FIFA’s absurd fine on Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri.”

Switzerland defender Stephan Lichtsteiner, not of Albanian descent, also received a fine from FIFA but was not mentioned in Rama’s campaign.

Xhaka and Shaqiri, who both have ethnic Albanian heritage and whose roots are in Kosovo, made hand signals that appeared to imitate the double-headed eagle on the Albanian flag after scoring in the 2-1 win over Serbia.

Swiss captain Lichtsteiner also appeared to make the gesture during the win in Kaliningrad.

Xhaka and Shaqiri have received a warning from FIFA and fined 10,000 Swiss francs (£7,633) for unsporting behaviour, while Lichtsteiner has received a fine of 5,000 Swiss francs (£3,816) for his actions.

FIFA outlaws all political messages or symbols in stadiums and the three players could have been banned for up to two games if they were found to have breached rules.

Stoke midfielder Shaqiri was asked about his celebration after the game, and put it down to pure emotion in the moment.

Erion Veliaj, mayor of Albania’s capital Tirana, also criticised FIFA’s decision in a tweet.

He posted a photo of himself and Rita Ora, a British singer of ethnic Albanian origin from Kosovo, making the eagle gesture together.

“Whether a singer like @RitaOra or footballer like @XS/11official it’s a call for joy, not conflict,” Veliaj wrote.

Rama wrote on his Facebook page that the bank account was a gesture of “thanks and gratitude to the two sportsmen” who brought joy to millions of Albanians.

Though Xhaka and Shaqiri play for Switzerland, Albanians celebrated the 2-1 victory over Serbia as if it were their own. Big screens were set up in public squares to follow the match.