No Olympics for Kosovo

The fledgling country's EU-esque flag will not be making the rounds in London's Olympic Stadium on June 27, RFE/RL reports, a major diasppointment to athletes like table tennis player Azari Blerta, shown above:

Kosovo had hoped to send a team of six athletes to the London 2012 Summer Games. But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in May rejected the country's application to participate in the July games.

Although 91 countries have recognized Kosovo, a former province of Serbia that declared its independence in 2008, it has not gained admission to the United Nations.

Malesor Gjonbalaj, an adviser to Kosovo's minister of culture, youth, and sport, says his government feels the IOC decision was arbitrary.

"The Olympic Charter says a country must be recognized by the international community. This notion can be interpreted anyway one pleases," Gjonbalaj says.

The IOC's decision does seem a bit arbitrary as Kosovo is already recognized by the international federations of a number of sports including table tennis, weightlifting, archery, judo, sailing, and now boxing. Soccer association FIFA recently ruled that its members could play friendly matches with Kosovo, prompting protests from the Serbian government.

On the political front the International Steering Group of 25 countries recently agreed to stop supervising Kosovo's independence, another step toward full sovereignty. Olympic participation is clearly not limited only to universally-recognized U.N.-member states, as the Palestinian team has competed in every Olympics since 1996.

This year, judoka Maher Abu Remeleh will become the first Palestinian athlete to earn a spot at the games based on athletic prowess alone, rather than special invitation. The only Kosovar athlete in London will be Majlinda Kelmendi -- also in judo -- who will fight on behalf of Albania.



Saudi princess seeks political asylum

Saudi Arabia's "Barbie" is striking back. In a far call from the extravagant upbringing that earned her the nickname, Princess Sara bint Talal bin Abdulaziz publicly filed a request for political asylum in Britain on July 6, claiming a threat against her freedom. As the granddaughter of Saudi Arabia's founding king and the daughter of the influential Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Princess Sara is the first high-ranking Saudi to seek refuge abroad.

In a royal family renowned for its control, the princess is no stranger to controversy. After breaking from her father over an unknown dispute, she moved to Britain in 2007, where she successfully sued for full custody of her four children. Despite pleas from the regime to return to Riyadh to discuss the matter in private, she remains engaged in a brutal inheritance battle with her older brother, Prince Turki bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, over their deceased mother's fortune.

These legal battles pale, however, in comparison to her current claims. Her British visa expired and her application for a new passport denied, the princess now faces the threat of deportation. Though initially willing to consider a return to the kingdom, a February 2011 incident during a meeting with Saudi officials heightened her fear of kidnapping. Malicious rumors have circulated, challenging the princess's mental stability, political loyalty and -- in an accusation she fervently denies as "baseless and malicious" -- collaboration with Hezbollah and Iran against the regime. She recently told the Sunday Telegraph:

"I've been physically abused. I've been mentally abused. My assets have been frozen. They've accused me of being in opposition...they haven't left anything. I've been crucified in every way."

Though a Saudi Embassy official reminded the Telegraph that the visa issue was a personal, not political, matter, the princess's claims reveal the extent of broader problems facing the House of Saud. As Michael Stephens argued in FP last month, the death of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud on June 16, 2012- an uncle and close ally of Princess Sara who shared her animosity toward her father -- has challenged the kingdom's stability. The dangers of royal succession have been exasperated by growing economic and political tensions, and the kingdom's crown princes will have to suppress domestic and familial fractures in order to survive. In a time of uncertainty, Sara's request defies more than her father's wishes: "They know I can't go back now. There is a threat. That's a slap in the face of the kingdom," she said.