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Serbian soccer player to continue playing with Kosovo U19s

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — A Serbian soccer player whose parents were fired from their jobs after he agreed to play for the Kosovo under-19 team said Monday he was determined to continue his career. Seventeen-year-old Ilija Ivic, who plays for KF Flamurtari Prishtina, was called up by Kosovo’s under-19 team, a move criticized by the ethnic Serb authorities in his resident commune of Gracanica.

“The pressure is enormous, but I look to everything through soccer," Ivic told The Associated Press. "I want to show everything on the field.” Serbian authorities in Gracanica, which is mostly populated by ethnic Serbs and is 9 kilometers (about 6 miles) from Pristina, fired his parents from their government jobs following the news.

“Regarding politics, the commentary will not impact me. I just want to improve to play soccer,” Ivic said. “It is hard but this give me more motivation for the future.” Ivic’s coach at KF Flamurtari Prishtina, Arbnor Morina, said the player has been part of the club for three years playing at different levels and now trained with the main team.

“He is well-incorporated in the club’s group,” Morina said. “I see nothing bad that a guy of another community is not part of our team. “It is a pity that sports, too, do not remain immune (from the ethnic discrimination from politics).”

Morina also recalled the case of a 15-year-old Serbian tennis player who lived in Gracanica. Due to ethnic pressure, she “has remained neither with them nor with us, not playing,” he said. The U.S. embassy in Pristina commended Ivic as a good role model who “inspires all young people in #Kosovo to work hard, develop their talents & follow their dreams.”

“Politics has no place in sports. This is a moment to celebrate diversity & a talented young Kosovo athlete,” the embassy added on its Twitter page. Kosovo joined UEFA and FIFA in 2016, but Serbia does not accept the country’s 2008 declaration of independence.

Serbia’s brutal intervention against Kosovo’s independence-seeking ethnic Albanians in 1998-99 prompted NATO to intervene to stop the conflict. Relations have remained tense ever since.

Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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