A Kosovo Karate Federation team was turned back from a border crossing into Serbia on Wednesday while trying to go to Novi Sad to the European championships and was not allowed in again later even without Kosovo’s insignia.
The team and Federation officials were first stopped by Serbia’s police at the Merdare border crossing after the Interior Ministry (MUP) had banned them from entering Serbia, Pristina’s Koha.net news portal reported adding that the team returned to Pristina.
The team tried to cross the border wearing Kosovo’s state symbols which Serbia does not recognise.
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.
Later on Wednesday, Kosovo Federation Secretary Nazim Gashi said that before the second attempt and after phone calls between the International Karate Federation with both Kosovo's’ and Serbia’s branches, MUP demanded that athletes travel without Kosovo’s symbols in order to secure their safety.
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.
On Wednesday, he said that the team actually did not even try to cross the border the second time since they were told that no green light was given despite they did not have any symbols.
Serbia’s Government Office for Kosovo said in a statement on Wednesday that athletes from Kosovo would not take part in the European Karate Championships in Novi Sad because they failed to abide by an earlier agreement.
It added that the Kosovo team tried to cross into central Serbia in two groups both with symbols of the state of Kosovo “despite the precise statement by organisers that the Kosovo athletes would participate and be represented in an exclusively status-neutral manner” and thus were denied entry.
The Office 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 in time. Kosovo officials denied it, saying the request was sent even before the deadline.
Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic reiterated that “the self-proclaimed state of Kosovo” could not take part at the European Championship with the state’s symbols.
“The agreement says Kosovo can take part only under the European Karate Federation symbols and with the FK* abbreviation,” Brnabic added.
Kosovo’s Karate Federation is a member of both European and World Karate Federations.
In March, European Handball Federation expelled Serbia's national women junior team from further competition, following Belgrade's decision to ban the match against Kosovo due to security reasons claiming it will not force police to beat people for something that is opposite to country's stands.