LONDON (AP) — Kosovo's chances of fielding a separate team at the Beijing Olympics are "unlikely" despite the province's declaration of independence from Serbia, the IOC said Monday.
International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said Kosovo needs to be recognized by the United Nations as an independent state and meet various sports requirements before gaining Olympic status.
"At this stage we still have to see what that the U.N. decides," Moreau said. "It looks unlikely athletes would be able to compete in Beijing for Kosovo because of the very short period of time."
The Beijing Olympics run Aug. 8-24.
Five ethnic Albanian boxers from Kosovo are hoping to represent their homeland in Beijing.
Apart from U.N. recognition, Kosovo needs to have a recognized national Olympic committee and official ties with several international sports federations.
Once those criteria are met, the IOC executive board could endorse Kosovo's Olympic status. Final approval would come from the full IOC assembly.
"As we speak today, it is too early to say what will happen," Moreau said in a telephone interview from Lausanne, Switzerland. "It's quite early in the process. It's completely hypothetical. We will have to wait and see what the U.N. decides."
Short of full recognition, the IOC could allow Kosovar athletes to compete as independent competitors under the Olympic flag. Such arrangements were made previously for athletes from East Timor and the former Yugoslavia.
On Sunday, Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders declared independence from Serbia. Kosovo had formally remained a part of Serbia even though it has been administered by the U.N. and NATO since 1999.
The United States, Britain, France and Germany have endorsed Kosovo's independence declaration. Russia and Serbia are opposed, as are a few EU countries, including Spain.
Last July, the IOC granted recognition to the Pacific island chain of Tuvalu and the former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, bringing Olympic membership to 205 nations.
Four athletes from East Timor competed in white uniforms under the Olympic flag at the 2000 Sydney Games as "individual Olympic athletes." East Timor was still under U.N. administrations following its vote in 1999 for independence from Indonesia. The IOC acted following appeals from then U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
The East Timor solution was similar to the arrangement made for Yugoslav athletes to compete at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Yugoslavia was under U.N. sanctions at the time because of conflicts with its republics, but the IOC permitted its athletes to compete as individuals with no national affiliation.
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