Sunday, 2 November 2008

Soccer International

The following article was published in the September 2008 issue of Australian football magazine, Soccer International. A shorter version is on the Sportingo network & was picked up by other sites, including Kosovocompromise

This September, Europe’s national teams start their qualifying matches for the 2012 World Cup with their newest member – Montenegro – joining the chase for a place in South Africa.

Across the Mediterranean from the former Yugoslavian republic, another ‘country’ has been eying membership of European and world football’s governing bodies, UEFA and FIFA respectively.
The problem for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is that, unlike Montenegro, which peacefully seceded from Serbia and joined UEFA and FIFA without objection, no-one believes that the TRNC is even a country.
As a new book, Outcasts! The Lands That FIFA Forgot, shows the pariah state of the TRNC is one of many would-be members and the Northern Cypriots do at least have FIFA’s ear.

Cyprus was a British colony until securing independence in 1960 but the island’s Greek and Turkish communities had always been at odds, particularly on the football field.
Teams from both communities played in an all-island league until 1955, when
Çetinkaya, the strongest Turkish Cypriot side and the last winners of the all-island league in 1952/53, were barred from playing a match against a Greek Cypriot side, Pezoporikos, in the capital Nicosia.
The Turkish Cypriot sides split off and formed their own federation, the Kıbrıs Türk Futbol Federasyonu (KTFF) that same year.
When independence was declared, the Turkish Cypriots insisted that the deal included separate sporting bodies for the two communities, who were soon feuding.
The inter-communal violence saw the Turkish Cypriots retreat to the north of the island and worsened until, in 1974 a Greek-inspired coup prompted Turkey to invade the top half of the island in an invasion that left 6,000 people dead and many homeless.
After this invasion, the KTFF organized ad hoc ‘international’ matches against the likes of Saudi Arabia, Libya, Malaysia and Turkey. No attempt was made to join FIFA but these friendlies were played with the tacit approval of then FIFA general secretary Dr Helmut Kaiser.
In 1983, that all ended. The TRNC declared itself a republic under hardline nationalist leader Rauf Denktas in a declaration still only recognized by the Northern Cypriot’s Turkish sponsors.
The KTFF was thrown into international isolation and the Turkish Cypriot footballers were left in a curious limbo.
The obvious place for ambitious players wanting to make a living from the game was Turkey but to the Turks, the TRNC was a foreign country and footballers from there were treated as overseas players.
“Everyone asks me what is your nationality and I say ‘the Turkish part of Cyprus ‘ and everyone has the same answer: ‘that is a problem’,” says Coscun Ulusoy of his attempts to find a club in Turkey.
In the southern Greek-dominated part of Cyprus, football has taken off in recent years and is professional. One Turkish Cypriot player, Sabri Senden, moved down south to join first division side Nea Salamina only to find himself branded a “weak character” by President Denktas.
In 2004, Denktas was replaced as president by the more moderate Mehmet Ali Talat, who favoured uniting the island under a UN plan, which also allowed for separate sporting teams following the UK model.
TRNC prime minister Ferdi Sabit Soyer says: “The UN solution has an idea for a common national team and a separate one. If we can have a common team that is good, but maybe we follow the UK plan. We can decide this at the table.”
The political situation eased and Ulusoy also went south to play for Salamina but getting round that table was proving difficult as Cyprus had joined the European Union in 2004 and had little impetus to concede any ground.
Around this time, the TRNC started using football to try and establish the idea of Northern Cyprus as a ‘nation’.
A Northern Cyprus team started playing friendless against other teams shunned by FIFA, such as Lapland, Zanzibar and Gibraltar and between 2005 and 2006 won three tournament, the Peace Cup played in the TRNC, the Wild Cup in Hamburg in 2006 and the eight-team ELF Cup played back at home in 2006.
Finally, a pre-season visit by English football league club Luton Town produced a break through. Luton came for a training camp and organised a friendly against
Çetinkaya, which the Greek Cypriots managed to get cancelled after strong protests. In response, TRNC politicians cancelled talks with their counterparts in the south and FIFA finally intervened.
Last September, the KTFF and the Cyprus Football Association (CFA) were invited to FIFA’s headquarters for talks. The KTFF recruited Brussels-based lobbyists Independent Diplomats and the talks have been ongoing ever since. A break-through seemed unlikely as the KTFF refused to merge with the CFA but the recent election of communist president Demetris Christofias, who favours uniting the island, are likely to help.
A key player in the case will be Marios Lafkaritis, who is UEFA’s honorary treasurer and one of two delegates elected specifically onto UEFA’s executive to represent smaller nations along with Malta’s Joe Mifsud. Lafkaritis also joined the FIFA executive last year.
For would-be members, trying to break into the FIFA elite involves winning over power brokers such as Lefkaritis or Russia’s Viacheslav Koloskov in the case of another aspiring FIFA member - Kosovo.
Koloskov is also on the FIFA executive and a key ally of Serbia from whom Kosovo universally seceded in February this year after being run under a United Nations (UN) mandate since the end of the Balkans War.
The Serbs vehemently dispute Kosovo’s independent status and, while FIFA may laughably insist politics has no place in sport, both Serbia and their backers in Moscow are likely to do whatever they can to deny Kosovo playing international football.
Unfortunately for the Kosovans and the Northern Cypriots, UEFA’s own membership criteria do this easily enough. To be a member of UEFA, potential new members have to be recognised as a country by the UN.
This rule was brought in as the result of an attempt to join UEFA and FIFA in the late 1990s by the UK colony of Gibraltar.
In the 1980s and 1990s, UEFA saw a flood of new entrants as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia broke up. With more money coming into the game, smaller nations that were UEFA members but did not enter qualifying competitions, such as Liechtenstein, found membership now lucrative enough to start fielding a team.
When the semi-autonomous Danish controlled colony of the Faroe Islands joined in 1988, Gibraltar decided to follow the same route.
Overseas clubs used to regularly visit the UK colony for friendly matches until the 1950s, when Gibraltar found itself increasingly isolated by hostile Spanish politicians eager to reclaim the Rock.
This gradually eased over time and Gibraltarian footballers increasingly began playing across the border in Spain and football on the Rock was in danger of dying. To prevent this, the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) decided to emulate another non-country in the Faroes and join UEFA and FIFA.
The GFA had not counted on Spain though and the Spanish football federation pledged to pull out every national and club team out of UEFA and FIFA competitions if Gibraltar were allowed in.
To prevent this calamity – imagine the Champions League without Barcelona or Real Madrid? – UEFA simply changed the rules.
All national associations need first to be a member of a regional confederation such as UEFA or Oceania before graduating to full FIFA membership and the guaranteed U$1 million every four years that provides.
UEFA decided that all new members need to be UN members and this conveniently kept Gibraltar out.
The GFA appealed the case three times to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) – the game’s ultimate arbiter – before their membership application finally went to a UEFA congress for a vote in January 2007.
Montengro were joyfully waived in but of UEFA’s 52 existing members, only three voted for Gibraltar. Representatives of England, Scotland and Wales all raised their hands in support but there no help from Northern Ireland.
GFA president Joe Nunez says: “This is the best example of politics in sport. No-one has ever raised any sporting objections to our application.”
Gibraltar are back at CAS looking for legal expenses but FIFA have already found their own excuse for barring the Rock’s footballers should they manage to elbow their way into UEFA.
FIFA has decreed that as the colony’s only football stadium, the 3,000-seat Victoria Stadium, is on land between the Spanish town of La Linea and the colony that remains disputed more than 200 years after the UK took hold of Gibraltar, then it cannot host international football.
Bizarrely, the stadium has a FIFA accredited artificial surface that sits on the same strip of land that is also home to the colony’s airport, which last year started receiving international flights from Spain. That sort of reasoning is how FIFA manages to exclude politically sensitive members or ‘nations’ that the world body just cannot cope with.
The football association on the African island of Zanzibar dates back more than 80 years. In the early 1960s, Zanzibar and the East African Republic of Tanganyika united to form Tanzania but the Zanzibaris continued to play as a national team in the regional Council of East & Central Africa Football Association’s annual cup against the likes of Malawi and Uganda.

Zanzibar has received more autonomy from Tanzania in recent years and has its own parliament and president but not independence. The Zanzibar Football Association is an associate member of the regional FIFA body, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and in 2005 applied to join FIFA with CAF’s blessing.
This application was rejected and one of the reasons given by FIFA was that teams from Zanzibar could get the ferry and play in Tanzania.
Abdulghang Himin Msoma, chairman of the Zanzibar National Sports Council, said: “We cannot play in a league by ferry, that is a very unfortunate reason. That is not a reason at all.”
Admitting places that are not really countries might seem absurd but over the years, FIFA has admitted a host of places just like that.
Not just the UK’s four Home Nations, whose membership is a historic anomaly, but places like Palestine – a FIFA member since 1994 – and, to the chagrin of Gibraltar, a swathe of colonies from Tahiti and New Caledonia to Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
FIFA’s entry criteria is membership of a regional confederation and the more woolly ‘recognition by the international community’ and this has let in 23 associations that are not members of the United Nations.
FIFA’s six regional confederations also have another half a dozen associate members, such as French Guyana in the CONCACAF region covering North and Central American and the Caribbean, and Niue Island in the Ocean region.
That is nearly 30 places playing countries as ‘nations’ when to most people they are anything but. Whether that membership list is ever swelled by the Turkish people of Northern Cyprus or the Kosovans remains to be seen.


Commonwealth of North Mariana Islands – When a US soccer Dad went to work on this isolated group of islands most famous as scene of bitter World War two battles, he tried to find a match for his teenage son and ended up starting a national team

The Channel Islands – Before New Labour came to power, Jersey and Guernsey probably had more autonomy than Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and are looking to take that independence onto the international football stage

The Falkland Islands – Has a four-team league but opposition from Argentina means that the South Atlantic islanders only outings are sporadic appearances in the football tournament of the bi-annual Island Games, a sort of mini-Olympics for islands

Greenland – Sitting on the top of the world, Greenland is, like the Faroe Islands, part of the Danish Commonwealth but politics has so far stopped the Greenlanders emulating the Faroese and joining UEFA and FIFA

Gibraltar – Spain and the UK have been at odds over the colony for two centuries and Spanish opposition has so far prevented the Gibraltarians joining UEFA and FIFA

Monaco – Nothing to stop the tiny Mediterranean principality joining UEFA but doing that might mean the only Monegasque club, former Champions League finalists AS Monaco, might have to leave the French league, which has so far scuppered the national team’s ambitions

Occitania – A team representing speakers of the medieval romance language, which is still spoken in France, Monaco and Spain. If you can speak Occitan, you can play regardless of where you come from

The Sami – a team drawn from the Sami tribe of Scandinavia, whose members – more commonly known as Lapps – are scattered across Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia

Tibet – A team drawn from the Tibetan Diaspora, mostly in India and Nepal, which tries to play matches across the world despite massive opposition from China

Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus – top half of Mediterranean island that was invaded by Turkey and declared itself a state in 1983. Unfortunately, no-one also noticed

Zanzibar – Played football since 1924 only for the African island to join with Tanganyika and become Tanzania in 1960 but recent reforms have seen a push for greater autonomy on the football field.

*‘Outcasts! The Lands That FIFA Forgot’ by Steve Menary is published by Know The Score Books. The book does not have an Australian distributor at present and can be bought by contacting the author through the website

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