Exclusive: Kosovan judoka refuses to give up on London 2012 dream


The International Olympic Committee's (IOC) ruling Executive Board turned down her request last week despite her personally writing to President Jacques Rogge to argue her case.

Kelmendi is currently unable to represent Kosovo at the Olympics as they are not a member of the IOC, although they are full members of the International Judo Federation (IJF).

"I believe that having to choose to compete under my second nationality, Albanian, for purely political reasons would not be in line with the spirit of the Games," she wrote to Rogge in a letter seen by insidethegames.

"I only hold an Albanian passport for mobility reasons and although I have participated in some judo events for Albania and received an Olympic Scholarship through the Judo Federation of Albania, these represent a minority of cases and took place only because the option to compete for Kosovo or as an Independent/Individual athlete were not always open to me.

"I underline that most of my Olympic Points were collected while competing as an Independent/Individual athlete under the IJF banner.

"Moreover, the Kosovo Judo Federation has recently become a full member of the IJF and I look forward to duly represent only Kosovo in future international competitions of our worldwide judo family."

But Rogge was unsympathetic towards the plight of Kelmendi, who is ranked fifth in the world in the under-52kg class, and won three Grand Prix and World Cup events last year.

"She has applied for participation under the Olympic flag," he told insidethegames.

"We studied this request but have noted she did qualify for Albania, received Olympic Scholarships for Albania, she has an Albanian passport and the Albanian National Olympic Committee are ready to select her.

"As the conditions were not met to compete under the Olympic flag she will be able to compete under the Albanian flag."

The former former Yugoslav province has been fighting a battle for recognition on the international sports stage since declaring independence in 2008, even though it is recognised internationally by 90 countries, including Britain.

Kosovo's Sports Minister Memli Krasniqi claimed that the decision violated the Olympic Charter.

"It is an extremely disappointing development and contrary to the values enshrined in the Olympic Charter," Krasniqi told insidethegames.

"There are no good reasons to turn down a genuine request by an athlete who is among the best in the world.

"Kosovo sport has been suffering from this isolation for 20 years and we have athletes who have been forced to leave in disillusion to compete for other countries."

The last Kosovan to win an Olympic medal was boxer Aziz Salihu (pictured below, in white top), who, fighting under Yugoslavia's flag, claimed a bronze medal in the super heavyweight division at Los Angeles in 1984, only being beaten by eventual champion Tyrell Biggs, of the United States, in the semi-finals.

Aziz Salihu_on_the_podium_in_Los_Angeles_1984

Krasniqi warned that the decision to force Kelmendi to represent Albania would affect more people than just her.

"It is a devastating blow to the hopes and dereams of thousands of young Kosovan athletes," he said.

"They have been isolated for so long but saw hope in Majlinda Kelmendi.

"This is not only a disaster for Majlinda but the whole sports community in Kosovo."

Krasniqi said that Kelmendi planned to write to Rogge one more time in an attempt to get him to change his mind but if that failed she would represent Albania.

"She will compete for Albania because she deserves to be there," he said.

"But even if she competes for Albania she will have Kosovo in her heart."

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]