Lack of recognition halts Kosovo's Olympic dream


Kosovo athletes could have been contenders in judo, boxing and wrestling. Until it meets IOC criteria, though, the fledgling state will have to sit out the Games.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 11/08/08


Kosovo's flag will not fly in Beijing. [File]

Kosovo is missing the Beijing Olympic Games. The new state failed to gain diplomatic recognition by a sufficient number of states and admission to at least five international sports federations. It currently has joined two.

According to the chairman of the Kosovo Olympic Committee, Besim Hasani, athletes from Kosovo had the potential to win medals in judo, boxing and wrestling. But they will not even be able to compete independently under the Olympic flag, as was allowed previously for athletes from East Timor.

"The main interest in having Kosovo take part in the Beijing Olympics was political. Kosovo's flag would have been there representing our new state," says Agim Kasapolli, a TV commentator who has covered seven Olympiads. The veteran broadcaster says his "biggest dream" was to cover Kosovo's entry into the Games as a sovereign nation.

He believes at least one Kosovo athlete -- 17-year-old judo star Majlinda Kelmendi -- could have made it to the podium. "She has won medals in all the European and world championships that she entered," Kasapolli says.

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Boxing has traditionally been another strong area. "Kosovo was a champion in [the former] Yugoslavia for five consecutive years," he says of the sport.

"Between 30% and 40% of the Yugoslav boxing team was made up of Kosovars," Kasapolli says. "Azis Salihu, for example, participated three times in the Olympics -- in Moscow in 1980; in Los Angeles in 1984, where he got the silver medal; and in Seoul in 1988. Another boxer, Mehmet Bogujevci, was second in the world. Luan Krasniqi, a former European boxing champion, is a Kosovar by origin but a German citizen."

Kosovo has also produced world-class wrestlers, with Mentaz Allajbegu becoming a prominent coach in the former Yugoslavia. However, wrestling is no longer as strong for Kosovo as it was before.

Despite its prospects, Kosovo has a long road ahead of it before it can join the parade of nations. First it must meet the criteria. After that, it needs endorsement from the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) executive board, followed by final approval from the entire IOC assembly.

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