Serb swimmer might be punished for wearing Kosovo shirt at podium

Updated: March 20, 2008, 1:22 PM ET
Associated Press

EINDHOVEN, Netherlands -- A Serb swimmer could face disciplinary action for wearing a T-shirt proclaiming "Kosovo is Serbia" during the gold-medal ceremony at the European swimming championships.

Milorad Cavic, an American-born Serb, said Thursday he was just trying to send "positive energy" to the country he represents as he accepted his medal Wednesday night for winning the 50-meter butterfly in a European record time of 23.11 seconds.

European swimming's governing body LEN said in a statement that Cavic had been called to face a disciplinary hearing Thursday night.

"I'm afraid of the worst," Cavic told The Associated Press. "A suspension is the worst they can do to me. That is the death sentence."

A suspension would disrupt Cavic's preparations for the Beijing Olympics.

Photos and images of Cavic in his red T-shirt were carried by Serb television stations, but the emphasis was more on his victory and record than his T-shirt. The country's president and prime minister congratulated Cavic on his win.

"I didn't do it to provoke anger, I didn't do it to provoke violence," Cavic said. "The country is torn apart and ... my goal was just to uplift them."

Kosovo, a former Serbian province with an ethnic Albanian majority, declared independence Feb. 17 and has been recognized by countries including the United States, Japan and powerful European Union nations.

However, Belgrade strongly objects to losing a province many Serbs consider the historical cradle of the nation. The Serbian government says the independence declaration was illegal and recalled ambassadors from nations that have recognized Kosovo as a new nation.

Kosovo had not been under Serbian control since a NATO force moved in on the heels of massive air strikes in 1999 that ended a brutal Serb crackdown on secessionist rebels in the province.

Cavic was born and trains in the United States with swimmers including Gary Hall Jr. He said his red T-shirt, with the text written in the Cyrillic alphabet widely used in Serbia, was just sending a message of support to the country he swims for, not making a political statement.

"What is my wearing a shirt going to do to change the minds of the United States, United Nations or European Union," he said. "This is already a done deal. All I wanted to do was uplift my people. My only role here was to be a leader and transfer positive energy."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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