DOHA, February 10, 2016 - A century-old Balkan story was given a new episode in Doha. It was just a matter of time before the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo became an issue for AIPS. This is exactly what happened at the AIPS Congress when representatives of Kosovo brought up the matter of their AIPS membership during the AIPS Europe continental section. They presented a number of arguments, but encountered at least equal amount of counter arguments. After lengthy proceedings during the AIPS Europe meeting, it was voted among the 33 European representatives that AIPS Europe's recommendation to the Congress would be for Kosovo to be admitted as a full member of AIPS.
Given that the matter of Kosovo and its political implications are most strongly felt in Europe, it was decided that AIPS Europe would be the strongest voice regarding Kosovo's AIPS membership, with its reccomendation to the full Congress carrying the most weight.
This recommendation was then accepted by the 108 members of the AIPS Congress without a further vote, making Kosovo the newest member of AIPS. Sri Lanka, Botswana and Rwanda were also affiliated and reaffliated as members.
AIPS Europe's vote
Clear opponents of Kosovo's membership into AIPS were representatives of Serbia, but despite the entire congress hall during the AIPS Europe meeting repeating that the discussion should be only of sporting nature, it was obvious that politics play a huge role.
The reasons are deep, and the history of conflict between Serbia and Kosovo goes back to over 100 years. At the end of the 19th century Kosovo became a part of Serbia and problems appeared when the Albanian population started to multiply. Kosovo has always been considered a part of Serbia by the latter nation, leaving the two locked in a permanent conflict. The situation culminated in outright conflict in 1996 when Serbia deployed an army to its southern boarders. In 1999 NATO forces bombed Serbian capital Belgrade. Kosovo was granted ‘de facto’ autonomy and Serbia was accused for ‘crimes against humanity’.
Ten years later, in 2008, Kosovo proclaimed itself as an independent nation and since then step by step have become a part of many international federations and associations. The moment has now come when journalists want to do the same, by becoming a part of the International Sports Press Association. Why? We asked Arnild Grantolli, a president of Sports Journalist Association of Kosovo.
“AIPS could support our journalists when they go to the biggest competitions”, he said. “This is the main reason for our arrival here. We want to be an equal member of the association and not have special status which is what we had before.”
Kosovo was recently recognized by FIBA, and a number of other international federations and Kosovo representatives are sure the same will soon happen with FIFA and UEFA. with the two associations set to bring the matter up at their upcoming congresses this year. Their gradual inclusion into the international circles of sport is the main argument as to why Kosovo should be accepted as a member of AIPS. However, Grantolli saved the strongest argument for last.
“We are a member of the International Olympic Committee and that is why there is no reason why AIPS should not accept us”, he said much more calmly than he was during Monday morning’s AIPS Europe meeting.
He really had a reason to be calm because at the end of the meeting, 22 countries there was a voting and 22 present countries voted for the ‘recommendation to the congress’ and nine countries against it. Three countries abstained.
We asked him about Serbia's decision to vote against Kosovo as a member of AIPS.
“Serbia is not a problem, let’s focus on the 22 members of AIPS Europe who voted for a yes recommendation. They know we make a point. We do not have a problem with Serbia”, Grantolli finished satisfied with Monday’s meeting.
Against Kosovo’s membership into AIPS was Predrag Milinković, president of the Serbian Sports Press Association.
“Put simply, this is about two nations of contradicting opinions and there is lot of unsolved problems. All these countries which went through the transition had some problems with independence, but here is word about a bigger problem”.
“Kosovo is not a member of the United Nations, it has not been accepted as an independent country,” Milinković said.
However, he hopes that politicians of Serbia and Kosovo will soon find a common language. Until then, Milinković will follow an official stance of his country regarding Kosovo.
Earlier on, we mentioned that three countries which said ‘abstained’ in the voting process. Given its own territorial issues, the clearest abstination came from Spain. However, another non-vote was from Croatia, who has always been involved in relations between Serbia and Kosovo, having gone through their own issues of independence and territory in the early ninties.
AIPS spoke to Jura Ozmec, president of the Croatian Sports Journalists Association, on their decision to abstain.
“Let’s make it clear. Croatia was one of the first ten countries to recognize Kosovo and from that point of view there should not be any problem for voting for their entry into AIPS. However, when we are talking about journalism, my stance was not accepting them until they become a member of United Nations. On the other hand, I did not want to create a conflict with an official stance of Croatia, so abstaining was the only solution”, said Ozmec.
Ozmec, as many delegates here, believe that a new AIPS member could do only good for the association, adding that Kosovo's membership into AIPS, means that just as with any other international federation, they will be compelled to respect the rules of the association and accept certain opinions even if they do not agree with them.