Kosovo in race against time to make it to start-line for London 2012

Thursday, 09 June 2011
By Tom Degun

Tom_Degun_head_and_shouldersLater this month, those of you lucky enough to have secured tickets to the London 2012 Olympic Games will be informed that you have been successful in the random ballot that decides who the precious pieces of paper go to.

Undoubtedly the most sought after tickets will be for the men's 100 metre sprint final where fans are desperate to see the seemingly inevitable Olympic Stadium showdown between reigning champion Usain Bolt and American Tyson Gay who is perhaps the only man who can stop the Jamaican superstar stealing the show at London 2012 as he did in Beijing at the Bird's Nest Stadium in 2008.

But it is not just these two great stars who people will desperately be hoping to see.

Britain's very own teenage diving gold medal prospect Tom Daley is certainly another one of the hot tickets in town as are any of the few that get you in to see swimming phenomenon Michael Phelps at the Aquatics Centre.

The list goes on and on but I think I can safely say that when applying for London 2012 tickets; seeing icons such as cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, heptathlete Jessica Ennis and tennis rivals Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal in action played a large part in selections.

Perhaps someone that didn't is Majlinda Kelmendi (pictured) of Kosovo.

Majlinda_Kelmendi_celebrating
But despite this, Kelmendi actually has a lot in common with the sporting stars I mentioned previously as competing in the sport of judo, being one of the very best in the world.

The 19-year-old won gold at the World Junior Championships, gold at the European Judo Championships and is currently ranked fifth in the world in the Olympic rankings.

However, unlike Bolt, Daley, Phelps, Nadal and the others, Kelmendi has a major problem.

It is not an opponent.

It is international politics.

Politics that stand in the way of the young star fulfilling her dream of going to an Olympic Games.

The story is long and complex but it began when Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in February 2008.

The act was rejected by the Government in Belgrade and not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council because of opposition from Russia and China.

Its autonomy has since been recognised by 75 countries to date, including the United States, Germany, France, Italy and Britain. 

But the key for Kosovo is to have at least five international federations that recognise the Kosovo Sports Federation in order to be eligible to gain membership from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

That would subsequently allow the likes of Kelmendi to compete at the Olympic Games.

Besim_Hasani_head_and_shoulders
"We already have four international federations that recognise the Kosovo Sports Federation," Besim Hasani (pictured), President of the Kosovo Olympic Committee (KOC), insidethegames as we spoke at a hotel in London.

"The International Table Tennis Federation has recognised us since 2003, the European Handball Federation since 2004, the International Weightlifting Federation since 2008 and also the International Federation of Wrestling since 2008.

"We are also provisional member of the International Archery Federation and we hope they we recognise us fully soon but as it stands, we are still looking for one more international federation to recognise us to fulfill this technical criteria.

"Once we have this, our National Olympic Committee can apply for recognition from the IOC.

"Then it up to the IOC Executive Committee to decide.

"We put our trust in them and we must hope that they do the right thing.

"The practice of sport is a human right.

"Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

"There are many young people who have come from the war in our country and have such horrible experiences.

"We want them to have a chance to move on through sport.

"If the international sporting world does not help us, we have lost that chance so I appeal to the international federations to help us - to allow these people who have had a very hard time in my country to show their strength in international sport at the Olympic Games."

Hasani feels that all the Kosovo athletes need is a chance to prove their worth.

"I remember when the international judo federation came to Kosovo and saw the talent of our athletes they allowed the athletes to compete at European and World Championship level under the international judo flag.

"What happened?

"Majlinda Kelmendi went to the European Championships and became European champion.

"Majlinda Kelmendi went to the World Junior Championships and became world junior champion.

"If she wasn't allowed to compete under the international judo flag, nobody would know just how good she is and that Kosovo has one of the greatest talents in the sport.

"But if our National Olympic Committee is not recognised, our athletes will not go to the London 2012 Olympics, even though they could win a gold medal there."

Hasani feels Olympic competition will give Kosovo new opportunities as it tries to move on from the devastating war of the 1990s.

The conflict was the culmination of years of tension in the province, in the southern part of Serbia and populated by an ethnic Albanian majority and Serb minority. As separatist insurgency grew in Kosovo, Belgrade sent in its troops.

With hundreds of thousands fleeing the province and reports of mass ethnic cleansing, NATO called it a humanitarian catastrophe and in March 1999 began a 78-day bombing campaign of Serbia and Montenegro, then called Yugoslavia.

Kosovo_independence
After the ceasefire, Kosovo was placed under UN administration and nine years later, the province declared independence.

Although calm has largely returned to this rural territory the diplomatic fight continues with the KOC heavily involved in the struggle and fully aware of the prize at stake.

"I am trying my hardest to meet with IOC members and international federation Presidents to explain our situation, to show how far we have come and to show how good our athletes are," said Hasani.

"If we are allowed to compete at London 2012, I am 100 per cent sure that we will have a minimum of one medal with Majlinda Kelmendi.

"As well as her, we have some very strong athletes in boxing, taekwondo, swimming and shooting so I think there are potentially five or six medals we could win at the London 2012 Olympics.

"The clock to 2012 is ticking though so we need help fast.

"So I beg the IOC Executive Committee, I beg IOC President Jacques Rogge to help us.

"To use the power of the Olympic Games and of sport to help those from a war torn country, those in need, to overcome their troubles."

Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames
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