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21 Mar, 2022 11:18

Serbia bans Kosovo flag at athletics world finals

Kosovo's colors were not shown at the World Athletics Indoor Championships 2022 because of a dispute over the country's independence
Serbia bans Kosovo flag at athletics world finals

A row has broken out after the Kosovo flag was not shown at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Serbia – with governing body World Athletics claiming that the development followed an agreement to avoid "tension" because of the "political situation" involving the countries.

Some viewers accused organizers of embarrassing themselves when the national flag of Gresa Bakraqi, a runner who is the only athlete representing Kosovo at the event in Belgrade, was not shown next to her name on screens.

Kosovo's flag is also not included on the official competition website, which is hosted on the World Athletics domain.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo's self-declaration of independence in 2008 and considers the territory a Serbian province.

The Olympic Committee of Kosovo (KOC) highlighted the decision on Twitter. Bakraqi said there had also been attempts to cover up the word Kosovo on her kit.

"The organizer constantly tried to cover my shirt where Kosovo was written," Kosova Press quoted Bakraqi as saying, adding that the KOC and the country's athletics federation had raised a complaint.

"I felt discriminated against and by no means did I accept to compete until I was equal to the other contestants. In the end, they relented and I competed with the abbreviation KOS.

"Journalists constantly asked to interview me, while the Serbian security and police, who followed me at every step, did not allow them."

World Athletics said in a statement that it had collaborated with the event organizing committee and the KOC to ensure Bakraqi could "compete without tension."

“Everyone is aware of the political situation in this region," it added. "[The negotiations] included all parties agreeing that the athlete would be represented by her World Athletics three letter country code (KOS)."

Olympics website Inside the Games said a spokesperson from World Athletics had responded in January that no issues were expected surounding Kosovo participating at the championships, explaining that the country's involvement was a condition of hosting.

An unimpressed viewer wrote on Twitter: "This is embarrasing from World Athletics. Kosovo's flag is missing to not hurt Serbia's feelings. Utterly stupid."

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) warned Serbia in December that it must not excluse athletes from certain nations when it holds major events.

Kosovo's Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims it is recognized by 117 countries, including the US and UK.

Serbia's view that it is an autonomous part of its country is supported by countries including Russia and China.

The controversy comes after members of the Kosovo Boxing Federation were denied entry to Serbia several times ahead of the Men's World Boxing Championships in Belgrade last October.

Kosovans had been cleared to take part under the terms of Serbia's hosting agreement with the International Boxing Association.

The IOC and the IBA condemned the incidents involving the boxing team.