IOC says Serbia’s actions “detrimental to the athletes of Kosovo” could spell additional trouble for AIBA

The IOC says Serbia’s refusal to allow the Kosovo boxing team into the country stems from AIBA failing to follow IOC advice. AIBA says it was “clearly defined” in host agreement that Kosovo entry would be permitted.

Kosovo boxing team not allowed into Serbia (Kosovo NOC)
Kosovo boxing team not allowed into Serbia (Kosovo NOC)

Serbia’s refusal to allow the Kosovo team into the country to take part in the AIBA Men’s World Boxing Championships in Belgrade could have some dire consequences for the international boxing federation.

The Kosovo National Olympic Committee said its team was denied entry three times over the weekend as it attempted to cross the border into Serbia to compete in the world championships from October 24 to November 6 in Belgrade.

The Kosovo NOC has been consulting with AIBA and the International Olympic Committee but so far to no avail. On its Twitter page, Kosovo NOC reported that its president Ismet Krasniqi and secretary general Besim Aliti discussed the issue with many IOC leaders while attending the ANOC General Assembly this weekend in Crete.

The IOC, in a statement to Around the Rings, says AIBA is at fault for not following the IOC’s advice in choosing Serbia as host for its event and adds that the decision is an additional mark against a federation which has been suspended from the IOC since 2019 for a litany of governance, finance and ethical issues.

“It appears that AIBA has not applied the necessary due diligence before allocating this tournament to Belgrade, despite the fact that the IOC has repeatedly advised the International Federations of the necessity of such due diligence. Therefore this incident, which is detrimental to the athletes of Kosovo, adds to the grave concerns that the IOC has with regard to the governance of this suspended International Federation,” said the IOC statement.

AIBA’s response on Monday said “During the allocation of the World Championships to Serbia, the situation we are now facing regarding Kosovo’s participation was foreseen. Therefore, it was clearly defined in the host city agreement, signed with the local organizing committee, that entry must be permitted”.

AIBA Secretary General István Kovács said that the federation has tried its best to fix the problem that has arisen.

“AIBA’s leadership has done its utmost to facilitate and motivate the local organizing committee and Serbian Government to find a solution for the situation. We also spoke with the Kosovo Boxing Federation to try and find a compromise that would enable their participation and whilst they were very cooperative, a solution could not be found with the local organizing committee and Serbian Government. Sports should never be involved in politics or affected by politics,” said Kovács.

Kosovo boxing team stuck at Serbian border (Kosovo NOC)
Kosovo boxing team stuck at Serbian border (Kosovo NOC)

This is not the first time Serbia has refused entry to Kosovan athletes. This latest incident is a carbon copy of the one from May 2018 involving the karate team from Kosovo attempting to cross into Serbia to compete in the European Karate Championships in Novi Sad. In both cases, the Kosovo delegation made a second attempt wearing clothes with no Kosovo symbols rather than their official kit but were still denied entry.

At the time of the first incident, Pere Miro, the IOC’s deputy director general for relations with the Olympic Movement, told ATR “it seems very clear to me that only countries giving guarantees of participation with no discrimination for all athletes, should be awarded in future the organization of international sports events”.

The IOC investigation into the events in 2018 could not find a specific reason why a pre-arranged agreement to allow the Kosovo karate team into Serbia had failed and declined to sanction the Serbian NOC or any of the other sporting bodies involved.

But the IOC said the failure “shows that, in spite of good intentions from all sides concerned, the political situation between Serbia and Kosovo makes it extremely difficult in practice for both countries to host an international sporting event involving athletes from this region.”

The IOC Executive Board agreed the IOC should inform all international sports organizations to “carefully consider this before allocating any sporting events in the region”.

Political tensions have remained high between the two countries since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state. Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia, has blocked Kosovo’s membership to the United Nations. Russia has veto power as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. About half of the UN member states recognize Kosovo as an independent country.

Kosovo was officially recognized by the IOC at its 2014 Session in Monaco. Kosovan athletes have won three gold medals, all in women’s judo, while competing at the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“AIBA knows that other international sports federations are due to host world championships for their sports in Serbia in the coming weeks and months,” the federation said on Monday, adding “AIBA will share its experiences with other sporting organisations in order that the appropriate lessons may be learned.”

Homepage photo: Kosovo NOC