(dpa) - Just over a week after declaring independence from Serbia, Kosovo has made its first appearance as a sovereign state on the international sporting stage at the table tennis world championships in the Chinese city of Guangzhou.
However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) believes the breakaway province has little chance of making it to the Beijing Olympics later this year and faces a tough challenge on the road to international recognition.
"There are two important points that Kosovo has to address," explained IOC vice-president Thomas Bach.
"Firstly, the country has to be recognized by the international community and, secondly, it has to be a member of at least five different international sporting federations that are part of the Olympic programme."
At the moment, Kosovo has no national Olympic committee and will only be able to create one once the two criteria are met.
But the province, whose parliament declared independence in an emergency session on February 17, is a long way from achieving these goals.
Serbia and Russia have both made it clear that they will not recognize the new state while Spain, Slovakia, Romania, Cyprus have followed suit.
As a result, IOC spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau admitted that Kosovo's appearance at the 2008 Olympics is "unlikely" although she added that Kosovans could possibly compete as independent athletes under the Olympic flag as has previously been the case for competitors from the former Yugoslavia and East Timor.
Membership of football's ruling body FIFA and the European federation UEFA is also a distant dream.
"We have to wait and see how the national associations within the country are constituted," said FIFA media director Andreas Herren.
Another obstacle facing Kosovo is that Article 5 of the UEFA statutes stipulates United Nations membership as a prerequisite to joining European football's ruling body.
So far, 20 of Kosovo's sporting federations have applied to join their respective international ruling bodies but so far the only registered successes have been with the International Table Tennis Federation in 2003 and the European Handball Federation a year later.
The international skiing federation FIS has granted Kosovo only observer status.
The resulting lack of international opportunities has led many of Kosovo's sporting stars to compete under foreign flags.
Professional boxer Luan Krasniqi boxes for Germany, freestyle wrestler and world championship bronze-medallist Sait Prizreni will compete in Beijing later this year for Albania while Ulug Kacaniku plays his basketball for Turkey.
At least, at the table tennis world championships in Guangzhou things appear to be running smoothly for the Kosovan delegation.
"We are all happy that we are competing here for the first time as a sovereign and independent country," said coach Nehat Citaku.
Even the presence of the Serbia team in China has failed to cause a stir.
"We have separated sport and politics and are friends with lots of Serbs, who we have known for a long time," said competitor Besire Domaniku.