In September 2014, Kosovo 2.0 launched an international crowd funding campaign under the slogan “Kosovo Wants to Play.” Much as athletes of sports in Kosovo rely on individual and public investment — both in time and in money — we also relied on the public’s commitment and will to support not only our magazine but also the cause of Kosovo’s athletes.
We were convinced that this topic would gather great support and generate debate. That’s because seven years into Kosovo’s independence, sports have been a constant reminder of the nation’s marginalized position in international forums. The inability to participate showed how some basic and fundamental rights are challenged. In the arena of sports, this has been apparent in two main domains.
On the one hand, Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence did not translate into an earlier belief that with statehood, the country’s participation in international structures and organizations would be granted. The majority of Kosovo’s sports federations were repeatedly denied membership in their respective international counterparts, leaving Kosovar athletes with few achievable dreams and aspirations. Prospects of world championships and the Olympics appeared far out of reach.
Recognizing the growing frustration of athletes and coaches, teams and federations, who saw their exclusion as a denial of their rights, we launched the “Kosovo Wants to Play” campaign in order to raise international awareness of their plea.
On the other hand, we were just as convinced that our responsibility as a magazine bestowed on us the obligation to equally highlight the shortcomings that sports in Kosovo have faced due to negligent state policies. The political barriers to the right of representation in international competitions were not acted upon or met with consistent state support. On the contrary, sports were never high on the government agenda, and little has been done over the years to offer the financial and infrastructural support that Kosovar sports need in order to thrive.
We began this issue with a determination to point to such barriers and struggles characterizing Kosovo’s sports and with a conviction grounded in the belief that sports can significantly serve as an agent of international recognition and, especially, an internal social and economic force.
Halfway through the production of this issue, in December 2014, the International Olympic Committee granted Kosovo full membership, paving the way for the country’s first representation in the Olympics. This news was met with great zeal and excitement, as such membership led to recognition from individual federations as well. Many eyes began turning toward Rio 2016. Meanwhile, 15 Kosovar athletes are also set to receive some modest support in the form of scholarships from local institutions and the Kosovo Olympic Committee to assist with their training (see “Who’s Tapped to Represent Kosovo at Rio 2016,” page 51).
However, this development also comes at a time when public debate has been swayed and engulfed with images and reports of hundreds and thousands of Kosovar Albanians seeking a way out of the country — a way out of poverty, the lack of economic perspective, scarce job opportunities, and stained social mobility. A recent news report by French site Footballski.fr delivers the story of two Kosovar athletes who have chosen the same path — the illegal crossing from Serbia into Hungary en route to other countries in the European Union. It reports how Shemsi Osmani, a 26-year-old football player for Llamkos Kosova, and Afrim Ademi, a member of the Trepça football club, no longer see a future in Kosovo, professionally and personally. A previously strong collective optimism has been broken by a lack of economic development and democratization, as well as Kosovo’s continued exclusion from Europe.
That is why in this issue we tackle sports as an integral part of our economic and political being, because it transcends discussion of games, scores and favorite teams. This issue ties in with discussions of rights to participation, and representation as a fundamental right; of sports as a catalyzer of social mobility; and how the politics of identity play out in the field. It looks at how sports can become divisive when national rhetoric takes the lead, but also can be a positive and transformative force when the global arena is localized. We have witnessed examples of both instances over the past year.
One was the case with the infamous “drone attack” in the Serbia-Albania European Championship qualification game. It attracted worldwide attention that simplistically framed it as yet another example, or syndrome, of how “the Balkans” behave violently. That such a form of fanaticism is not exclusive to the Balkans, is discussed compellingly by Loic Tregoures in this issue’s story “Hooliganism and the Blame Game,” page 14.
But sport can also be a unifying force, as became apparent in March 2014, when Kosovo played its first FIFA-sanctioned friendly, against Haiti in Mitrovica. Considered a great step forward for the recognition of Kosovo football, in many ways no other event has gathered as many Kosovars, embracing under the country’s own symbols and flag, since the declaration of independence. Similar public reactions have also come to the forefront each time two-time world champion judoka Majlinda Kelmendi has brought home a trophy.
In the meantime, there is no doubt that until 2016 Olympics are over, Rio will remain in the spotlight. Regardless of the results attained, this will be Kosovo’s “historic representation” in the Olympics. But despite this enthusiasm, we should also acknowledge that international prospects for Kosovar athletes will ultimately depend on tangible conditions created within their country. And the time has come to focus greater attention at home, just as well.