Astrit Hasani explained about the issues involving Spain and Kosovo ©Brian Oliver/ITG

The European Weightlifting Federation (EWF), whose 2018 Senior Championships began in Romania today with surprise gold medals for the host nation and Spain, may have to move its Junior and Under-23 Championships because of the Spanish Government's refusal to recognise Kosovo.

"This is all politics, and we like to think that sport is above politics," said Astrit Hasani, the Kosovan treasurer of the EWF who, like his nation's athletes, is unable to obtain a visa to visit Spain without special dispensation.

There are no diplomatic relations between Kosovo and Spain, one of the five European Union nations who have refused to recognise Kosovo since it declared its independence in 2008, the others being Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia and Romania.

This year's Junior and Under-23 Championships are due to be hosted by La Coruna in the last week of October, but unless Spain's Sports Ministry can officially approve the issuing of visas to Kosovan athletes and officials within three weeks, a new venue will be sought.

"Our constitution says a host country must accept all members of our Federation, so Spain has to accept Kosovo," said Hasan Akkus, general secretary of the EWF.

"The EWF is sending a letter direct to the Spanish Government to get a final decision.

"We have already started talking to other nations who could host the Championships if we have to move them. 

"La Coruna was fixed for October 24 to 31, but if a new nation takes over we would give them new options for the date." 

Isaac Morillas, communications director of the Spanish Weightlifting Federation, said La Coruna was an enthusiastic host city and would be very disappointed to lose the Championships.

There was a historic moment in Romania as men and women competed together ©Brian Oliver/ITG
There was a historic moment in Romania as men and women competed together ©Brian Oliver/ITG

"We have been talking to the Ministry of Sport since October about this, and they say it is not possible to give visas to Kosovo," said Morillas.

"The EWF will make direct contact and ask for a decision within 20 days, and that is going to be difficult."

Spain announced recently that it would issue visas for Kosovo to compete in this year's Mediterranean Games in Tarragona in June, under pressure from the International Olympic Committee, but they made that decision less than four months before the event.

Such a timescale would not work for the EWF, which has already had to race against time, helped by an impressive effort from the Romanian Weightlifting Federation, to stage the current Championships after the late withdrawal of Albania as hosts.

There are fears within Spanish sport that as Catalan separatism is such a key issue at the moment, and as Spain does not recognise Kosovo’s statehood, the Spanish Government is reluctant to do anything that might be seen as supportive of separatists.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was arrested in Germany this week.

The original decision to award the Championships to La Coruna was taken in 2016 and, although the situation regarding visas was the same then as now, Spain was expected to make sport an exception, as others have done.

Romania put politics aside not only in welcoming Kosovo to the senior championships at the Olympic Complex here in Izvorani, but by sending a team, with Government permission, to Kosovo for last year's EWF Youth Championships in Pristina.

Slovakia and Greece also competed in Kosovo.

There was a landmark moment on the first day of action in Izvorani when men and women competed together in the same session.

Josue Brachi won the men's 56 kilograms division ©Brian Oliver/ITG
Josue Brachi won the men's 56 kilograms division ©Brian Oliver/ITG

The Croatian 56 kilograms lifter Georgije Bogojevic competed alongside the women's 48kg B Group. 

He was the only lifter whose entry was too low for the televised A group so, at the suggestion of Denmark’s EWF Executive Board member Tina Beiter, he joined the women.

"It has happened at national competitions before but not at a European Championships, or at any competition on the IWF (International Weightlifting Federation) calendar," said Akkus.

Bogojevic finished about 80kg behind the Spanish 56kg winner Josue Brachi, who surprised his great rival and defending champion Mirco Scarantino, of Italy, who was seeking his tenth European title at youth, junior, under-23 and senior level.

Brachi made only two good lifts for 254kg but still finished 1kg ahead of Scarantino, with Romania's Ilie Ciotoiu third.

Romania had a home winner to cheer in the 48kg when Elena Andries defeated another defending champion, Anais Michel, from France.

Andries totalled 179kg, better than Michel by 5kg and well clear of third-placed Daniela Pandova of Bulgaria.