Spain to allow Kosovan athletes to use flag, anthem

International Olympic Committee vice president Juan Antonio Samaranch, pictured October 2018, warned that Spain's refusal to recognise Kosovo was an obstacle to staging major sports competitions in the country

Spain will allow Kosovan athletes to use national symbols in international competitions organised in the country even if Madrid doesn't recognise the independence of the Balkan state, the Spanish Olympic Committee (COE) said Wednesday.

The decision comes after Juan Antonio Samaranch, vice president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), warned that Spain's refusal to recognise Kosovo was an obstacle to staging major sports competitions in the country.

"The Spanish government will provide sporting delegations from Kosovo that compete in Spain with the appropriate visa and will allow them the use of their own national symbols, the anthem and flag, in accordance with the Olympic protocol," the COE said in a statement.

The decision was taken by Spain's foreign ministry, it added.

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 presented a problem when athletes from Kosovo wanted 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 IOC to ask international federations not to award major competitions to Spain until this issue was 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," Samaranch, who is from Spain, told reporters in Madrid.

Spain's decision to give out visas and allow Kosovan athletes to use their flag and anthem was welcomed by Spain's Olympic Committee and the IOC.