For political reasons, Kosovo will not compete at the 2012 London Olympics.
By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 24/07/12
Participants perform at an event organised by Kosovo's Olympic Committee in Pristina. [Reuters]
Kosovo's request to be represented at the 2012 London Games was rejected in June when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided that Majlinda Kelmendi, the former Kosovo world judo champion, will be part of the Albanian team at the Olympics.
Kelmendi is just one of several athletes from Kosovo facing difficulties in international competition.
"Our efforts continued until the last moment at the meeting of the IOC executive board in Quebec in May, where unfortunately we received a negative decision to present Majlinda Kelmendi in London 2012 as the Kosovo representative, or as an independent athlete. For us, however, it is important that Kelmendi will be there, even under the flag of Albania, and certainly she will be on our minds and in our hearts," Malesor Gjonbalaj, advisor to the minister of culture and sport, told SETimes.
He said that the IOC decision has sent a negative message to Kosovo athletes, who still face difficulties and isolation due to the political differences between the members of the international sports organisations over Kosovo's status.
"With this act, the IOC even more dimmed the hopes of thousands of athletes from Kosovo that their dream of being successful, equal with other athletes, representing their country, will one day be realised. It is very sad how values of sport, respect, and passion for competition continue to be politically influenced in the case of Kosovo," Gjonbalaj said.
Besim Hasani, president of the Kosovo Olympic Committee, said it is discouraging that young athletes cannot compete with their peers in an international arena.
"They want to be equal with their fellows from around the world," Hasani told SETimes.
Seb Bytyci, executive director of the Balkan Policy Institute, told SETimes that the country's isolation in the sports arena also politically impacts the country.
"It is disappointing for Kosovo's athletes that Kosovo is still isolated internationally. This is especially worrying given how young the population is. This isolation has led many young athletes to compete for Albania and calls for more integration of Kosovo's sports with Albania," Bytyci said.
After this year's games, Kosovo will raise the question of its membership requirements to the IOC executive board.
"We hope for further political progress and, eventually, all Kosovo sports federations and the Olympic Committee of Kosovo to become members of all international sports bodies," Hasani said.
Bytyci added that although Olympic representation is not yet available for Kosovo, the efforts to achieve this must continue.
"It is important that Kosovo continues to seek acceptance politically, but also for Kosovo athletes to show success in disciplines that are accepted internationally," Bytyci said.
Granit Tahiri, 19, a student at Prishtina University, is upset with the isolation of Kosovo athletes.
"We have many good athletes like Majlinda, or other well-known athletes like Xhaka playing for Bayern Munchen, and still they can't play for their country because some do not agree that we are a country, and in the end we pay the price," Tahiri told SETimes.
"It's not good that we do not participate, but we will support Kelmendi and the Albania team, and I am convinced she will gain new records, and this will signal the need to recognise Kosovo sports," Erlehta Gashi, a Prishtina University law student, told SETimes.