IOC pressures Spain over Kosovo athletes

The International Olympic Committee asked international federations to not award major competitions to Spain until the country recognized Kosovo as independent from Serbia in sport

Spain's refusal to recognise Kosovo is an obstacle to staging major sports competitions in the country which should be resolved quickly, the vice president of the International Olympic Committee said Tuesday.

Spain, which faces its own independence movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country, is one of only a handful of European Union nations that still does not recognise the Balkan state which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

This presents a problem when athletes from Kosovo want to take part in international competitions in Spain.

For example during the November 6-11 Karate World Championships in Madrid, athletes from Kosovo were allowed to compete bearing the initials of their federation, KKF, on the back of their uniforms.

But the scoreboards showed them as "World Karate Federation (WKF) 5" and both their anthem and flag were banned.

This led the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ask international federations not to award major competitions to Spain until this issue is resolved, a source close to the Switzerland-based body told AFP.

"We can recognise or not a country at the political level, we don't have an opinion on that," IOC vice president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who is from Spain, told reporters in Madrid.

"But we must find and apply solutions so that athletes are protected and can participate by at least defending the Olympic committee of their own country. This is a question we will have to settle here, because the International Olympic Committee will be tempted to focus on it.

"I do not see this issue being a big problem, it's a problem that will be solved very quickly," he added.

Spain, which will host the Champions League final in June, is planning to bid to stage the 2030 Winter Olympics in Barcelona and the nearby Pyrenees mountains, giving it extra incentive to resolve the problem.

In a statement, Spain's secretary of state for sports, Maria Jose Rienda, said the protection of Kosovo's athletes at the karate championship in Madrid last week "were guaranteed" and invited the IOC to discuss the issue with the Spanish government's sports council which she heads.