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News 28 May 12

Kosovo Blames Russia for Failed Olympics Bid

Politics blamed for preventing Kosovo sports ambassador, Judo Champion Majlinda Kelmendi, from participating in this summer’s Olympics under the Kosovo flag.

Fatmir Aliu
Pristina

Russia’s influence in the International Olympic Committee, IOC, is the reason Kosovo will not be formally represented at the London Olympics, according to Kosovo Judo champion Majlinda Kelmendi's coach, Driton Kuka.

Kuka was speaking after the IOC turned down Kelmendi’s request to compete for Kosovo or as an independent athlete at this summer’s Olympics.
    
“Unfortunately the IOC took a decision that was politically influenced by the Great Powers,” Kuka told BIRN. “To be more precise, it was Russia that lobbied so much against us, and changed the IOC stance at the last minute.”

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has been recognized by 90 UN member states, including the US, and 22 EU member states. It is not recognised by Serbia, Russia and the remaining EU states.

The number of recognitions of Kosovo independence is not sufficient for membership of the IOC, although Kosovo has fulfilled the political requirements for membership. The IOC has consistently rejected Kosovo’s membership requests on the grounds that the country must first secure membership of the United Nations.

Majlinda Kelmendi is the ultimate role model for young Kosovars, demonstrating values of determination and courage. Rising from humble beginnings in western Kosovo, the 20-year-old is already an international success. Quiet and determined, she is the same in person as she is when competing in the dojo.

Despite obstacles, Kelmendi continues to aim for Olympic gold. She has dedicated 12 of her 20 years to Judo, and had hoped to represent Kosovo at the London Olympics between July 27 and August 12.

This would have been a chance to see the blue and yellow Kosovo flag raised – and the chance to bring home a medal for the new state.

However, that scenario now looks increasingly unlikely because of the political circumstances surrounding Kosovo Olympic participation.

“The refusal to let Majlinda compete under Kosovo’s flag is unexpected bad news for other Kosovo sports,” said Kuka, a former champion in formerYugoslavia and Kelmendi’s long-time mentor.

Kelmendi will compete in the London Olympics, but representing Albania rather than Kosovo, as she holds both Kosovo and Albanian citizenship.

“Personally Majlinda doesn’t lose anything. But we lose a lot as a newborn country,” Kuka said. “If we had competed under our [Kosovo] flag at the Olympics, that would have opened the door for all the sports. This has been the main obstacle to showing the world that we have so many talented athletes – but they can’t show their talent due to politics.”

Because of Kosovo’s political circumstances, Kelmendi has had to compete under the flag of the International Judo Federation for most of her career.

However, when the then 19-year old won gold in Paris last year, becoming world champion in the under-52 kg category, the Kosovo flag was raised and the Kosovo anthem was played, following a personal commitment to Kelmendi by the chief of the International Judo Federation, Marius Vizer.

In a senior match at the World Championship at the beginning of this year in Japan, Kelmendi came ninth and successfully defended her title as European champion.

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