CAIRO - Political divisions on the independence of Muslims-majority province of Kosovo are aborting the dream of Kosovar athletes to fly the flag of their nascent state at the Olympic Games.
"We're trying to represent our athletes. But the barriers that have been imposed are often politically motivated," Malesor Gjonbalaj, an adviser to Kosovo's minister of culture, youth, and sport, told Radio Free Europe.
"I'm reluctant to name other countries, but I would start with Serbia."
Kosovo, which was run by the UN since a 1999 NATO campaign ended ethnic cleansing by Serbian troops, won independence from Serbia in 2008.
The nascent state was recognized by the United States and Europe, but Serbia and its major ally Russia refused to recognize Kosovo's independence.
This political division has prevented the Muslims-majority province from gaining admission to the United Nations.
Consequently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has refused Kosovo's application to join the London Olympic Games this month.
The IOC also conditioned that the new state gains admission to five international sports federations: table tennis, weightlifting, archery, judo, and sailing, to be accepted in the Olympics.
"The Olympic Charter says a country must be recognized by the international community. This notion can be interpreted anyway one pleases," Gjonbalaj said.
"We have asked many times to have an explanation of what it really means. The executive board of the International Olympic Committee interprets it as 'recognition by the UN.'"
Muslim Albanians make up more than 95 percent of Kosovo's two million population.
The refusal to accept Kosovo in the Olympics has dashed the dreams of young Kosovars to fly their nation's flag in the Games.
"When you compare yourself to other athletes who might have the same result as you, you know that person isn't even thinking about whether or not they can go to the Olympics," shooter Urata Rama, 25, said.
"They focus only on how to get the best results and how to best represent their countries.
But we in Kosovo always face two problems: isolation and how to do well," she said.
Kosovo has tried to join the International Shooting Sport Federation three times, but the requests were rejected.
It is disappointing," said Rama.
The only Kosovar athlete at the London Olympics is judoka Majlinda Kelmendi, who has been forced to represent Albania.
Kelmendi's request to appear as an independent athlete at the Olympics was rejected by the IOC because she has Albanian citizenship and had previously competed as an Albanian in international competitions that barred Kosovo.
The last Kosovar to win an Olympic medal was boxer Aziz Salihu, who took bronze as a super heavyweight in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
"Not participating in the Olympics this year is very bad for these youngsters, said Salihu.
We all know that we have a lot of talent here," he said, blaming the government for failure to show up at the London Olympics."The government should be ashamed it has not worked harder on this."