Don’t lose the ball in the sea

Don’t lose the ball in the sea

Last year in June, I wrote about the Cyprus national team that was made up of Greeks, Turks and Armenians in the 1950s. And also, that the Cypriot Turkish football was desperately seeking to be isolated.

There was an important development last week; the Cyprus Turkish Football Association (KTFF) “joined” the Cyprus Football Association (KOP). Expectation: To open doors of contact for Turkish Cypriot teams and football players.

In an inquiry from the daily Yeni Düzen, 12 of the 14 presidents of the teams playing in the Super League of Northern Cyprus said they supported this initiative in principle. Only one said he would consult the executive committee and Lefke was against it. Teams of the first and second league also supported this move unanimously. Chair of the Küçük Kaymaklı team Ali Başman said the sustainability of Turkish Cypriot football was in question otherwise. Mormenekşe club’s poetic chair Metin Menekşeli and head of Gençlik Gücü team Mehmet Yenice both refer to “belonging to the world.” Head of team Cihangir, Karavezirler said, “We are fed up with playing internally.” Head of Bostancı Bağcıl team Besim said the football they were playing internally was no longer motivating. 

Researcher Okan Dağlı, Ph. D., said, “Sports fans, players and the clubs are all fed up with the status quo. They are giving messages that they would consent to everything.” He added that people are totally outraged, especially when Turkish teams are playing with Greek Cypriot teams, saying “Why are we the spectators all the time?” They believe that, in football, if the status quo is overcome, this will bring us one step closer to realizing the hope that “Greek and Turkish Cypriots achieve something together one day.”

As can very easily be guessed there is a nationalist reaction against this development. Daily Volkan published a headline, “Political treason.” 

Okan Dağlı mentioned the expectation arising from the cooperation between KOP and KTFF could create a platform for inter-club relations. When I hear this I remember that in Cyprus, football has developed into a politicized network.

APOEL and Anorthosis were the teams of nationalists. Omonia of the Communist Party played with a mixed squad of Turks, Greeks and Armenians. You can still see today the swastika in the stands of one and the hammer and sickle in the other. 

This divide also existed among Turkish society. Doğan Türk Birliği and later the real Çetinkaya were the national teams of the Turkish “partitionists.” Türk Eğitim Kulübü and Limasol Türk Ocağı were left inclined. The Türk Ocağı was even raided by the Turkish Cypriot counterinsurgency because its roots were from a dock worker-labor union base. It was relegated from the Super League last year. I don’t know their current inclination. The world of hope: Would the newly formed political friendships and solidarity be reflected among the clubs as was done so previously? 

Serkan Seymen, who I owe my interest and knowledge of the history of Cyprus football, told me a little anecdote: when the British rule ended in 1960 in Cyprus, one of the colonial administrators was consoling himself, saying, “This island is so small to play football that we always lose the ball in the sea.” 

I hope the Cypriots are able to see that they can play without losing the ball.

Tanıl Bora is a columnist for daily Radikal in which this piece was published on Nov. 13. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.