PtG Article 11.06.2009

"Let our players compete internationally," Kosovo sport stake holders urge

The continued embargo on Kosovo playing international sport is seriously damaging sport in the former Yugoslav republic, a trio of Kosovans told Play the Game.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on February 8 2008 but has not secured membership of the United Nations, leaving most Kosovan sports teams in international limbo.

“Help us, every minute lost is a minute lost to society” said Agrim Islami, president of the Tennis Federation of Kosovo, who recalled a Kosovan athlete telling him: “If you become champion of sport in Kosovo, you stop there, there is nowhere to go.”The European Handball Federation allows Kosovan clubs to play internationally but not the national team, which remains on the sidelines, and some Kosovan sports federations have abandoned hope of playing internationally.Kosovo has eight tennis clubs but Mr Islami said: “Our aim is not international competition but popularisation with the kids.”So far, 60 countries have recognised Kosovo’s Independence as have seven out of eight members of the G8 grouping of the world’s biggest economic nations but continued opposition from Serbia’s allies Russia is preventing UN membership.Mr Islami told how Serbian interference is also damaging fragile attempts to unite Kosovo’s population, 92% of which ethnic Albanian with minorities such as Kosovan Serbs and Turks.He added: “A Kosovan Serb basketball club played in the Kosovo league until Belgrade banned them from playing and now they must play in the Serb league. We are desparately calling on all minorities to come and play but they get signals from Belgrade not to participate in sport [in Kosovo].The Kosovan government wants membership of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to enable its athletes to compete in the next Games in London in 2012 said Arberore Riza, a media advisor from the country’s Ministry of Sport, who added that all documentation for membership is completed.Driton Latifi, sports news editor at Kosovan newspaper Daily Lajm, said that Kosovo’s continued exclusion from the IOC is political. He pointed to the 2000 Olympics as evidence. He said: “Five athletes from East Tmior competed but they were still not a state but Kosovo could not compete in Beijing [at the 2008 Olympics.]Around half of the 2.3 million population is aged under 25 but Kosovo’s isolation from world sporting bodies such as the IOC has left the country’s government with just E1.7 million to spread around its sporting bodies.Kosovo has eight athletics clubs but their 330 members have no infrastructure to compete on said Mr Islami.Only two stadia in the capital Prishtina and Mitrovica meet international football requirements but the Kosovan football federation is shunned by UEFA and FIFA.Mr Islami added: “We had several offers to play games but FIFA does not allow us to play and every team that will play us will be punished.”

Three years after returning from the United States to coach the land of his birth, Kosovo’s football manager, Edmond Rugova, recently stood down in frustration at the lack of games for this team.