The International Olympic Committee has officially recognized Kosovo, paving the way for the former Serbian province to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as an independent country.
On Tuesday in Monaco, the full 104-member IOC ratified a recommendation made in October by the IOC executive board to grant Kosovo recognition.
IOC President Thomas Bach called the ratification “very important” and said Kosovo’s athletes can now start preparing for the Rio games.
The president of Kosovo’s National Olympic Committee, Besim Hasani, said this is “not the end of the journey but the beginning of a new era” for Kosovo’s Olympic movement.
Serbian officials, however, condemned the IOC decision and said it politicizes global sports.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Serbia refuses to recognize its former province as an independent state, however, claiming it is the heartland of the Serbian nation. Kosovo has a majority Albanian population.
The IOC says it made its decision in October in the interests of Kosovo’s athletes and to remove any uncertainty about their participation in the qualifiers for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio and in future Games.
The National Olympic Committee of Kosovo was established in 1992 and has more than 30 affiliated National Federations, 13 of which are Olympic sports federations.