Unified Olympic team represents the divided country
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) -- For the first time since the war ended in 1995, a unified Olympic team will represent the formally divided country of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Bosnian Olympic Committee announced Tuesday that nine athletes, seven coaches and three administrators from both the Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian Serb republic -- the two autonomous regions that comprise postwar Bosnia -- will travel to Sydney and compete in track, judo, shooting and swimming.
The number of athletes could grow, pending results others on the list of potential candidates might achieve in the next few days.
Bosnian athletes have competed at past Olympics but never as part of a full-nation team.
Having Muslims Serbs and Croats, who shot at each other just five years ago, now competing under a common Bosnian flag in Sydney is a success the Olympic committee is proud of.
"We have promoted sports without discrimination in harmony with the Olympic spirit and understanding among people and ethnic groups within Bosnia-Herzegovina," said the president of the Bosnian Olympic Committee, Bogic Bogicevic.
The peace agreement stopped Bosnia's 1992-1995 war but left the country divided into two hostile entities.
Nationalists are still trying to keep the ethnic groups divided and refuse to cooperate with each other. This country even has two soccer leagues --one Serb, the other Muslim-Croat. They do not play against each other.
That's why a unified Olympic team "will be a significant contribution to the stabilization of peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the establishment of a sports community in the country based on equal treatment, tolerance and fair play," Bogicevic said.
Asked about expectations, Bogicevic said one should keep in mind the chronic lack of funding for sports and the difficult conditions under which athletes in Bosnia work.
He offered the example of middle-distance runner Jasmin Salihovic, one of three athletes who could still qualify to join the Olympic team in a few days.
Salihovic is a refugee from Srebrenica, a town known for the worst massacre of civilians in Europe since World War II. Thousands of Muslims, most of them men, are believed to have been killed by Serb troops after they took the town July 11, 1995.
Without any preparations, Salihovic went to the Balkan Championship and achieved a good result in the 800 meters. Another 800 run is due Monday that could put Salihovic on the road to Sydney.
"We are proud of the results of our athletes. We know under which conditions they live and work," he said.
Bosnia's economy remains destroyed and the unemployment rate in the country is above 70 percent.
So far the Olympic Committee has managed to raise only about $76,000 of the $500,000 it needs to finance the team. It hopes the rest will be donated by local sponsors.