A decision by the European Handball Federation to grant full membership to Kosovo has been labelled "very important for all sport" in the country as it continues to push for recognition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The Handball Association of Kosovo became the 50th member federation of the EHF following a vote at its Congress in Dublin last month.
Prior to the Congress in the Irish capital, Kosovo could only compete in club competitions as an associate member - since 2004 - but its national sides can now compete in European national team competitions.
It has already registered to take part in qualification for the 2015 European Women's Under-17 and Under-19 Championships, as well as the senior men's European Championships in 2018, due to take place in Croatia
Kosovo's full membership of the International Handball Federation is due to be ratified at its Congress next year bringing to seven the number of International Federations affiliated to the Olympic Movement that have granted the country full membership status.
Kosovo is also an associate member of six International Federations.
"It is very, very good news for handball players in Kosovo, of which there are more than 6,000 players because they did not have opportunities to play for the national team for many years," Besim Hasani, President of the Kosovo Olympic Committee, told insidethegames.
"It will help them to compete internationally and it is very important for that.
"But also it is very important for all sport in Kosovo.
"We are all adapting and hoping to become members of International Federations."
Hasani has been leading Kosovo's charge for IOC recognition since the country formally declared independence in February 2008.
But membership appears to remain some way off, despite 108 of the 193 members of the United Nations (UN) recognising the country as an independent state.
The main stumbling block is Russia, who has used its veto as one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council to block any prospect of UN membership.
Under IOC rules, a country needs to be "recognised by the international community" which means a member of the UN, even though an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in 2010 deemed Kosovo's declaration of independence as legal.
It is also a member of several other international organisations, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
"Today we have 13 National Federations (within Olympic sports) that are recognised by International Federations," said Hasani.
"It is very important for our Olympic Committee and moving forward.
"We think that we have fulfilled all the criteria to become a member of the IOC.
"We deserve to become a member of the IOC because we have very good organised sport and we have people who love sport.
"We have athletes who are working very hard in the likes of skiing and athletics but they are not allowed to compete at official World Championships and European Championships."
A number of Kosovan athletes have competed at Olympic Games in the past representing the likes of the former Yugoslavia and Albania, including judoka Majlinda Kelmendi who participated at London 2012 under the Albanian flag.
Kelmendi created history last year by becoming the first athlete from Kosovo to win a major title when she took gold at the International Judo Federation World Championships in Rio de Janeiro.
Hasani revealed that he feels a great burden to deliver opportunities for Kosovan athletes to follow in the footsteps of Kelmendi and represent their country on the international stage.
"I am under big pressure from athletes," he said.
"They are thinking we are not doing enough to talk with the International Federations and the IOC.
"They want to compete with all other international athletes and they deserve this because we are recognised by 108 UN nations."
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