KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: It’s a case of one day at a time for football in Cyprus. Down the last half-century the island has been one of those international bywords for political split and division. Now football’s pursuit of, at least, a sporting rapprochement has juddered further forward.
Officials remain cautiously optimistic that this latest negotiation will not go the same way as an initiative generated by FIFA in 2008 which fell foul of local political complexities.
The Cyprus Football Association was established in 1934 by six Greek Cypriot clubs and two Turkish Cypriot clubs. It joined FIFA in 1948 and Greek and Turkish Cypriot clubs played together in an all-island league until 1955.
In 1955, during the anti-colonial struggle which sparked its own tensions between the communities, the CFA suspended Turkish-Cypriot clubs from its competitions to avert – so it claimed – clashes in the stadiums.
The barred clubs created their own federation and Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot clubs have not played together since.
That division was cemented further after the Turkish invasion of the north of the island 1974, a split which has resisted all international efforts at achieving reunification. The south has a population of 1.1m with a further 290,000 living to the north of the United Nations-controlled buffer zone.
The north has earned international opprobrium as a safe haven for fugitive criminals such as, most notably, the disgraced businessman Asil Nadir. However pressure for some sort of resolution has increased as Turkey has edged closer to the European Union of which Greece, of course, is a member.
The football status of Greek-Cypriot Cyprus, as a financially-rewarded sports member of FIFA and UEFA, was enhanced last season by the surprise progress of APOEL Nicosia to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The club’s exploits earned new visibility and self-confidence for the CFA.
Hence last December talks were undertaken in Nicosia between the CFA’s Kostakis Koutsokoumnis and Hasan Sertoglu, president of the Turkish Cypriot Football Federation. Both men confirmed an intention to unify football on the politically-divided island.
A further, reciprocal meeting was held this past week in the north. World and European federations FIFA and UEFA were both represented and both Cypriot FAs followed it by assertions that they were close to a football reunification.
A further meeting is being scheduled for March at the headquarters of FIFA in Zurich.
Koutsokoumnis said: “For the first time after many years… We are very close to the historical day for the re-unification of Cyprus football. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. We agree on most points, but we need to package them in a way that other people will accept them.
“The re-unification of football on the island has been a problem in existence for the last 58 years. Hopefully it will take far less time to re-unify football in the weeks to come. Now that FIFA and UEFA are with us, the next step is to join them to try and unify the differences that might still exist.”
Sertoglu said: “In this meeting we have come much closer. I had some doubts about how talks might go but I believe we will be able to solve these issues.”
Sevim Ebeoglu, a veteran Turkish Cypriot footballer, said: “I hope that they can sort something out. It’s a shame for our young people because there are many talented players.”
The 82-year-old won three championships with southern club AEL in the early 1950s . . . in days long ago.
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