By Karolos Grohmann
MONACO, Dec 9 (Reuters) – Kosovo won full International Olympic Committee membership on Tuesday, paving the way for the Balkan region’s first Olympic Games appearance at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Games.
The IOC said it had started reviewing the Kosovo file five years ago, a year after the region declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
This came almost a decade after NATO went to war to halt the massacre and expulsion of Albanians by Serbian forces waging a two-year counter-insurgency under late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
“It was a very complicated situation,” said Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, head of the Association of National Olympic Committees.
“I am proud that now there will be 2005 NOCs (in the IOC).
Belgrade refuses to recognise Kosovo, saying the territory, which has a majority Albanian population, is a heartland of the Serbian nation and the country’s Olympic committee had launched a protest in October when Kosovo was granted provisional IOC recognition.
Kosovo is recognised as a country by 108 of the 193 UN Member States.
“We are very proud Kosovo will take part in the inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan next year,” said Patrick Hickey, head of the European Olympic Committee which welcomed Kosovo as its 50th member.
Kosovo’s Olympic Committee was formed in 1992 with more than 30 affiliated national federations, 13 of which are Olympic sports federations.
Six of those: table tennis, archery, judo, sailing, weightlifting, and modern pentathlon, are full members of their respective international federations.
Olympic membership through a national Olympic Committee allows athletes to compete in the summer and winter Games while also accessing IOC funds for the development of sport in their region.
While IOC recognition usually is preceded by United Nations recognition of the state, it is not a prerequisite. (Editing by Ossian Shine)