Former Albania prime minister challenges incumbent football president’s 16-year reign

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 12, 2018 12:17

Story Highlights

  • Albania will elect a new Football Association president on February 7, 2018 when incumbent president Armand Duka and ruling Socialist Party MP Bashkim Fino face each other in a tough race

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Ruling Socialist Party MP and former Prime Minister, Bashkim Fino

Ruling Socialist Party MP and former Prime Minister, Bashkim Fino

TIRANA, Jan. 12 – Former Socialist Party Prime Minister Bashkim Fino has unveiled his much-rumored and expected candidacy to take over as the new head of Albania’s football association, challenging incumbent president Armand Duka who is seeking a fifth consecutive four-year term in next February’s elections.

Speaking in an interview with Albania’s public broadcaster, RTSH, on Thursday night, the experienced left-wing politician said he accepted the challenge in a bid to change Albanian football and its image.

Fino says the first thing he wants to change is the football image and will fight for fair play and bring back fans to stadiums.

“I think it is time to make a change in Albanian football and give it a new image,” Fino has said, admitting that beating Duka will be tough due to the short time at his disposal and his long tenure at the helm of Albanian football.

The 55-year-old Socialist Party lawmaker served as the mayor of Gjirokastra in the early 1990s soon after the collapse of the country’s communist regime and a short-term consensual Prime Minister of the country during the 1997 turmoil triggered by the collapse of some pyramid investment schemes. He is known for his passion for football and is often seen on stadiums attending matches.

Asked if his candidacy could lead to political interference, Fino said there is no barrier preventing him from the legal point of view and that he is not going to give up his MP mandate ahead of the race.

“I am an experienced politician. I have graduated in finance. I was a mayor, a prime minister. I am an MP and a member of the legal affairs committee. From the legal point of view, nothing prevents me from running. The Albanian Football Association is a non-profit NGO and there is no barrier. Politically speaking, I am nobody. I am somebody who wants to serve football. If I am voted on February, I will only dedicate myself to football,” Fino said.

The politician also says he will propose limiting the football association president’s terms of office to two from a current unlimited number.

Duka’s challenger says he will initiate legal action against eight regional associations with a right to vote in next February’s elections but not registered with the country’s courts yet.

In the February 7 elections, the president will be elected by 66-member General Assembly composed of presidents of elite and lower division clubs as well as 12 sports associations, of which eight regional ones. A second round with a simple majority is held in case any of the candidates fails to get the initial qualified majority 2/3 of the votes, some 44 votes.


Duka’s fifth consecutive bid

Incumbent head of Albania's football association, Armand Duka

Incumbent head of Albania’s football association, Armand Duka

Incumbent president Armand Duka has said he decided to run for another mandate despite question marks over his long tenure and another person with new energy being given the opportunity to take over.

“It’s not that I haven’t thought about that but considering that there are no other alternatives that would take football forward, and considering that the relationship I have shaped with the community to develop this organization is positive and the experience we have had together can help Albanian football, that was what led me to make this positive decision,” Duka has said.

Speaking about Fino’s candidacy, Duka said the he would like to see his opponent stripped of his party functions as an organizing secretary.

“I would like to see that as an initiative of Bashkim Fino and his friends supporting him and not as an initiative of the Socialist Party organizing secretary,” he says.

“The rising popularity of football among children, youngsters, women, the results of the national side with the major target of qualifying for the Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup, the clubs’ international achievements, the football policies and the guaranteed future give me confidence that we will decide for a better Albanian football,” Duka said after announcing his candidacy.

The 55-year incumbent president has been in office as the president of Albania’s most popular sport since 2002 and managed to get easily re-elected for three other consecutive terms although having no prior sports background.

Duka is a successful Albanian businessman in several sectors including egg production, retail trade and until late 2017 in the sole-Albanian-owned mobile telephony that ceased its operations after it was acquired by the two largest operators. He has a 50-50 partnership with his brother, politician Agron Duka, a former MP and agriculture minister.

In his bio published on the Football Association’s portal, Duka says he has achieved his target of taking Albania to a first-ever major competition such as Euro 2016 and managed to build two stadiums meeting international standards in the cities of Elbasan and Shkodra while the National Arena stadium, a public private partnership project of the Albanian government, is already under construction.

The race is expected to be tough and decided by a small margin, which is also hinted by Fino’s reluctance to give up his MP mandate ahead of the race.

The challenge also risks getting politicized, something which could trigger penalties by European football governing body, UEFA, considering the political profile of Duka’s rival and possible government influence on local government-run clubs.

Albanian international and club football has progressed in the past few years as the national side made a first ever appearance at a major competition and Skenderbeu made it twice to the UEFA Europa League group stage although it was banned for one year from international football on match fixing allegations in the 2016-2017 season and had its 2016 Superliga title lifted.

After its debut Euro 2016, Albania failed to make it to the Russia 2018 World Cup finishing third in tough qualifying group stage with Spain and Italy.

New coach Christian Panucci, the successor of Gianni De Biasi, has been set a Euro 2020 qualification target following his good start with the national side since taking over in mid-2017.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 12, 2018 12:17