Kosovo’s sports minister on October 25 threatened retaliation and called on event organizers in Serbia to be punished after Kosovar boxers were denied entry to attend the amateur world championships in Belgrade.
Kosovo, a former part of Serbia, declared independence in 2008, but the government in Belgrade still considers it to be a part of Serbia.
The Kosovo Olympic Committee said on October 23 that three athletes from Kosovo were twice denied entry by Serbian border guards as they tried to attend the October 24-November 6 World Boxing Championships in Belgrade. The team was turned back the first time for wearing Kosovo's national symbols, then made another attempt to cross into Serbia without the symbols but were denied entry again.
“Serbia’s refusal of entry for Kosovar boxers for the 2021 World Boxing Championships is a serious and blatant violation of basic international principles in sports, and a breach of Kosovar athletes’ fundamental rights by the event organizers acting under the orders of the Serbian government,” Kosovo’s Sports Minister Hajrulla Ceku said on October 25.
The incident has drawn in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and AIBA International Boxing Association, which both recognized Kosovo as a member in 2014.
"The government of Kosovo calls on the AIBA and IOC to penalize the event organizers in Serbia and urgently calls on the EU to condemn Serbia for this major transgression against our athletes and sports everywhere,” Ceku said.
He said that a meeting would be held on October 26 which would "offer concrete recommendations for action against Serbian parallel sports structures" in Kosovo.
The IOC said following the incident that AIBA failed to conduct due diligence when awarding Belgrade the right to host the tournament, despite the Olympic body’s recommendation against doing so. The IOC suspended AIBA in 2019, stripping it of involvement in Olympic qualifiers and the Tokyo 2020 Games tournament over governance, finance, and ethical issues.
AIBA said all athletes should be allowed to compete and it was in contact with the Serbian Boxing Federation to address the situation.
"AIBA aims to provide a welcoming home for every boxer, and the world of boxing has no borders," it said on October 23. "Sport is intended to unite people and should be free of national politics."
The European Union, which both Kosovo and Serbia hope to join one day, is backing Kosovo in calling for Serbia to allow the boxers to attend the tournament.
"The EU fully supports the International Boxing Association in its expectation that the Kosovo Boxing Federation’s delegation will be treated no differently than the delegation of any other member of the association and to enable Kosovo to participate on an equal basis," EU foreign policy spokesman Peter Stano told RFE/RL.
“As we have said many times in the past, a lasting normalisation of relations and a sustainable reconciliation between societies begins with intellectual, cultural, athletic and artistic exchanges, Stano said, adding that such exchanges “are essential for building mutual understanding.”
Authorities at all levels should spare no effort to ensure that such exchanges take place regularly, undisturbedly, and without any hindrance,” the spokesman said.