Thursday, 22 November 2012

Northern Cyprus

The crumbling old Taxim Stadium in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia is redolent of what has happened to football in Northern Cyprus over the last 30 years.

The ground is no longer used because it sits right on the Turkish side of the Green Line dividing the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities on the island.

A United Nations (UN) sentry tower looms over the pitch, which is surrounded by barbed wire. Getting spectators in and out of a ground where Çetinkaya Türk Spor Kulübü became the last club from the Turkish-dominated Northern Cyprus to win a Cypriot league title back in 1951, is no longer possible.

The ground is crumbling and prone to flooding during Autumn and winter downpours but Çetinkaya’s headquarters remains nearby. In a sign of a softening of a conflict that was solidified first by Turkey’s invasion of the northern part of Cyprus in 1974, then the mostly ignored declaration of independence in 1983 of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the ground is now being used again.

Like most of the big clubs in Northern Cyprus, Çetinkaya’s players are only semi-professional, training on some weekday afternoons. After striking an agreement with the UN, this now takes place back at Taxim with the Çetinkaya players training on a surface under the UN sentry tower and away from the piles of barbed wire – a sign of the divide that splits the island in political and sporting terms.

Change is afoot though. Hasan Sertoğlu took over as president at the association in the north, the CTFA, in 2010. Sertoğlu is a former president of the Küçük Kaymaklı Türk Spor Kulübü, which won the championship the north in 2010/11 before Çetinkaya reclaimed the title last season. 

The Turkish clubs broke away in 1955 as social conflict gripped the island. Attempts to play internationally have foundered at the gates of FIAF, although Northern Cyprus will take on a side of London-based Turkish Cypriots in the English capital on May 19 2013. For Sertoğlu, whose mandate runs until June 2014, the priority is reaching some form of agreement with the Greek-dominated Cyprus Football Association (CFA) in the south. 

Talks between the two sides broke down after politics intervened. The CTFA want to resuurect those discussions with the CFA, but do the Greek Cypriots want to listen?

For more on football on this story and in Northern Cyprus, see the December 2012 edition of World Soccer magazine.

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