Olympics: Kosovo athletes to head for Rio

The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday gave official recognition to Kosovo allowing its athletes to take part in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The IOC executive recognised the former Serbian province, which declared its independence in 2005, in October.

"This is one big day," Besim Hasani, president of the Kosovo Olympic Committee, told the IOC session. "This is the beginning of a new era for the Olympic movement in Kosovo."

"Now they can start to prepare for Rio," IOC president Thomas Bach said after the unanimous decision was agreed by the full 104-member assembly.

Serbia refuses to accept the independence of Kosovo, where NATO-led airstrikes were used in 1999 to stop an offensive by Serbian forces against ethnic-Albanian separatists.

Bach said that Serbia had accepted Kosovo's membership "in the interests of the athletes."

Kosovo is now the 205th member of the IOC and its 50th member from Europe.

Kosovo's Olympic committee has 30 sporting federations as members and six -- table tennis, archery, judo, yachting, weightlifting and modern pentathlon -- are full members of international federations. Seven more are close to being recognised.