Balkans: Premier League team played here, now a UEFA co-financed project is being investigated

source:; author: Kuba Kowalski

Balkans: Premier League team played here, now a UEFA co-financed project is being investigated English fans may remember Aston Villa's recent match in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Vico Zeljković, president of the country's Football Association, who was elected in 2022, promised significant investment in stadiums. However, one of his earliest ideas has run into problems.


Coming to rescue of Bosnian stadiums

One of his promises was reconstruction of 12 football fields, whose uneven surfaces and lack of proper drainage made sports practice impossible in bad weather conditions. This is the first project I want to start during my term. We already have funds in the budget to build 6 facilities in 4 years. For the rest, we will need UEFA's assistance - Zeljković said in April 2021.

In 2022, project Reconstruction of 12 Fields in Bosnia and Herzegovina under the NS/FSBiH project - Construction of Hybrid Fields was presented, co-financed by UEFA under the HatTrick V program. This is financial assistance provided to member countries for the reconstruction or creation of football infrastructure.

One of Bosnia's stadiums, Stadion pod Bijeli Brijegom, recently played host to Aston Villa in the UEFA Conference League. This venue does not look impressive when comparing it to English arenas, even though it has undergone upgrades in recent years. For English fans, however, the trip to this location was an interesting adventure. Those fans who stayed in Birmingham also experienced a lot of excitement, especially as many of them bet on the matches. To do this they use betting sites across the UK, where they can rely on the opinion of betting experts who review, rate and rank the best sites in the UK.

 Stadion pod Bijeli Brijegom© Jörg Pochert | Stadion pod Bijelim Brijegom

Comprehensive renovation in 30 days?

Complications arose almost from the beginning. The first was the problem with the public tender for the entire project. The overly detailed requirements raised doubts about impartiality. Delays also occurred during the implementation itself, with some fields still unfinished. One of the builders is a Czech company whose owners have collaborated in the past with a well-known Czech arms manufacturer or the former head of the Macedonian secret service. The local prosecutor's office is currently investigating the Bosnian Football Association.

On June 1, 2022, work began on the Banja Luka stadium field and four other facilities. In September, when the fields were still not usable, interested football clubs began to publicly complain. Their players had nowhere to train, and clubs could not earn from ticket sales for matches. One of the reasons for the consortium led by the Czech Wickr Group's victory was the completion deadline of 30 days. Companies that also participated in the selection process stated in their complaints that a month was an unrealistic deadline for a general reconstruction.

 Stadion Gradski Banja Luka© | Stadion Gradski Banja Luka

Federation dismisses accusations

However, the president of the Bosnian FA responded to the protests, stating that there is no evidence of this. You don't have to be very clever to understand why clubs still can't play on this field, said Dževad Šećerbegović, the then general director of the Tušanj stadium in an interview with N1 TV. Workers completed the contract with a delay, so the field needs more time. It would be a pity to play on it right away because the grass has not grown deep enough. I think we will be able to play only in mid-March, he declared. On the other hand, the president of Velež Mostar told N1 TV journalists that the workers at the stadium in Mostar wanted to lay the grass even though the surface was clearly uneven. It was clear they were incompetent, said Senad Husnić.

Federation does not feel responsible, claiming they have done everything to ensure the project is completed as soon as possible. Is it good? Is it cheap?

 Stadion Rođeni© | Stadion Rođeni

Company assures it knows what it's doing?

One of the owners of the company responsible for the investment, in a conversation with, revealed that they learned about the tender for the reconstruction of football fields from independent sources and decided to choose the right partners for its implementation. To meet their requirements, we contacted several companies, and then chose Tarkett and Hellasod, companies with excellent international references, said Sparavalo. The agreement was announced on March 24, 2022. Two days later, the Wickr Group registered a website. When asked if a functional website was one of the requirements of the public tender, Sparavalo did not answer, but explained that they were changing hosting service providers at that time. He also stated that Wickr Group, an investment and development company, has been operating in this industry for over 25 years.

Consortium led by Czech Wickr Group ultimately completed the project and concluded the reconstruction of stadiums in the largest cities of Bosnia - Sarajevo, Mostar, Banja Luka, and Tuzla.

Regarding the projects themselves and the delays associated with their implementation, Sparavalo noted that under the contract, they have already rebuilt five football fields - two stadiums in Mostar and one each in Tuzla, Banja Luka, and Sarajevo, while four more have been handed over for acceptance, and Sarajevo is in the process of preparing documentation for handover. According to the owner, construction of the remaining two has already begun. Of course, the consortium provides guarantees arising from the agreement with the investor, Sparavalo explains. However, he did not address whether any penalties are looming for delays.

Grbavica StadiumGrbavica Stadium, Destination Sarajevo

Who pays for this?

The agreement with UEFA also included the determination of the payment method. The European federation agreed to support the project on the condition that the cities whose stadiums would be rebuilt partially finance the work. According to the agreement reached by N1 TV journalists, UEFA will transfer over €1.5 million. However, this will only happen if all municipalities contribute around €230,000 each. The agreement also states that UEFA will not transfer any money to the project until all municipalities sign agreements to provide funding. However, in the case of the Banja Luka stadium, both local government authorities and state institutions denied financing the construction in any way. During a press conference, the union president confirmed that some fields were rebuilt without financial support from cities.

The local prosecutor's office has now initiated an investigation into the Bosnian federation. According to unofficial information obtained by N1 TV journalists, the prosecutor's office is interested not only in the person of president Zeljković but also in his advisor Marko Miličić. However, very little is known about the latter. Even people long associated with the local football community do not know who Miličić is and what qualifies him to serve as the president's advisor.