A Kosovo Karate Federation team was not allowed into Serbia on their way to the European championships in Novi Sad.
The team and Federation officials were stopped by the Serbian police at the Merdare crossing and told that the Internal Affairs Ministry had banned them from entering Serbia, Pristina’s Koha.net news portal reported adding that the team returned to Pristina.
The media in Pristina quoted Kosovo Karate Federation officials who said earlier that they would not be competing in Novi Sad if Kosovo state symbols were banned from the meet.
The Kosovo Karate Federation is a member of the European and World Karate Federations.
Kosovo Federation Secretary Nazim Gashi said in March that a team from Kosovo would be taking part in the European Championships in Novi Sad, adding that the host country should introduce security measures if there is any danger to athletes.
Karate is set to become an Olympic sport and the European Championships are part of the qualifications for the next Olympic games. The Serbian authorities recently cancelled a handball World Championship qualifier between the Serbian and Kosovo national teams and withdrew a judo team from a competition in Sarajevo before they came up against athletes from Kosovo.
Athletes from Kosovo will not take part in the European Karata Championships in Novi Sad because they failed to abide by an earlier agreement, the Serbian government Office for Kosovo said in a statement on Wednesday. It added that the Kosovo team tried to cross into central Serbia in two groups and were denied entry both with symbols of the state of Kosovo “despite the precise statement by organizers that the Kosovo athletes would participate and be represented in an exclusively status-neutral manner”.
The Office for Kosovo said the agreement on official visits between Belgrade and Pristina was implemented, preventing the attempt to turn the karate competition into a political arena. The statement said the request for the karate team to enter Serbia was not submitted on time. Official Pristina cited the same reason for the arrest of Office for Kosovo chief Marko Djuric in Kosovska Mitrovica late in March.
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said that the banning of the karate team was unacceptable. Thaci wrote on his Facebook profile that Belgrade’s decision runs counter to the spirit of sports and the rules of World Karate Federation while Haradinaj wrote that it does not help the normalization of relations between the two states.