Serbia needlessly tells its Olympians to avoid Kosovans on the medal stand

Olympic gold medal - Rio 2016 Games. Image credits: Rio 2016 |
(RIO 2016)

Serbian officials have reportedly told their athletes that they shouldn’t share any medal stands with Olympians from Kosovo while competing down in Rio.

It’s an order that’s completely contradictory to Olympic ideals, of course.

It’s also an order that shouldn’t be difficult for Serbian athletes to follow.

Kosovo is competing in its first Olympics since splitting from Serbia in 2008. Majilinda Kelmendi won the disputed territory’s first medal on Sunday, a gold in the 52 kg women’s judo, but there were no Serbians competing in the event, let alone contending for a medal.

Of the other seven Kosovans in Rio, only two are competing in the same event as a Serbian athlete.

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And those two events where there’s a conflict? Well, they’ve already been completed without a Serbian or Kosovan coming anywhere close to winning a medal. Kosovo’s Qendrim Guri and Serbia’s Ivan Stevic didn’t finish the men’s cycling road race while Kosovo’s Urata Rama and two Serbian shooters did not advance past the qualifying round of the women’s 10m air rifle. Both events took place on Saturday.

Serbian sports minister Vanja Udovicic said the final decision to boycott a medal stand would be up to the athletes themselves and that the order was only “a recommendation.” Udovicic said that the issue was “complex” as the Serbian government has not officially recognized Kosovo as an independent state.

“Complex” is definitely the best way to describe Serbia’s history in the Olympics. It first appeared in the Olympics as the “Kingdom of Serbia” at the 1912 Games before participating as part of Yugoslavia from 1920 to the 1992 Winter Games. Serbian athletes then participated under the Independent Olympic banner in the 1992 Summer Games before competing as Serbia and Montenegro from 1996-2008.

Seven-time Olympian shooter Jasna Sekaric competed under four different banners during her Olympic career.

Kosovo, meanwhile, became a full member of the IOC in December 2014, sparking “outrage” from Serbian officials who said the IOC was violating its own charter by becoming involved in a political decision. Serbian Olympic Committee president Vlade Divac said he was not pleased with the decision but would accept it in the interest of athletes.

IOC membership usually goes hand in hand with official recognition from the United Nations, but not always. Kosovo is currently recognized as an independent state by 109 out of 193 United Nations members, including the United States, but is not yet a member of the U.N.

Serbia has a total of 103 athletes competing at the 2016 Games and features a number of medal contenders. Novak Djokovic is the top-ranked tennis player in the world and is looking to win the first gold medal of his career. The men’s water polo team is the favorite to win gold in the pool while the men’s basketball team is also expected to be a medal contender.