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A Spring Thaw in Relations Between Turkish Cyprus and Greek Cyprus On and Off the Field

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On March 30, 2015 the president of the Turkish Cypriot Football Association (CTFA) made a statement that breaks from the usual rhetoric heard from the leadership of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). According to the ABC News report the President of the football association, Hasan Sertoglu, has already sent a letter to FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke informing him that “that the Cyprus Turkish Football Association is bringing its statutes in line with international norms” in order to join the already recognized Cypriot Football Association. To his critics, Mr. Sertoglu had this to say: “This is not a political issue. We’re doing it for the future of our youth . . . You can scream at me all you want, you won’t be able to stop us.”

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Cyprus Turkish Football Association President Hasan Sertoglu (L) and Cyprus Football Association President Costakis Koutsokoumnis shaking hands on November 5, 2013 in Zurich. Image Courtesy Of: http://sports.yahoo.com/news/cyprus-football-eyes-reunion-60-divorce-192036218–sow.html

Unfortunately, his critics are many. Last week Serdar Denktas—the son of former TRNC President Rauf Denktas–reportedly broke off relations with the CTFA and last week sent letters to the presidents of Turkish Cypriot football clubs “condemning the decision as ‘suicide’ for the Turkish Cypriot political cause”. ABC News also reports that a move to by the Turkish Football Federation’s President Yildirim Demiroren to open a branch in the TRNC was rejected by FIFA.

 

The island of Cyprus has been divided between Turks in the north and Greeks in the south since 1974, when Turkish forces invaded in response to a coup in Greece due to fears that Cyprus would be united with Greece under the plan of enosis. Since Turks and Greeks had been living on Cyprus since Ottoman times the invasion changed lives on the island forever. Even after the fall of the Berlin fall, Nicosia is Europe’s last divided city. Even if Cyprus’s European Union accession was, arguably, not in line with international law (as it is a divided island), it went through and has resulted in vastly different fortunes for those living on either side of the UN ceasefire line. The Greek side in the south has flourished both economically and in football terms; the Turkish side has languished in both, mired in an international no-man’s land and recognized only by Turkey.

In 2004 there were hopes for unification when 65% of Turks voted positively for the UN backed referendum, but when 75.8% of Greek Cypriots rejected the plan the status quo continued. The rejection by the Greek side was predictable, given the economic disparities between the two communities at time. While the TRNC has experienced healthy growth since the failed referendum, geopolitics still reigns supreme: Turkey does not want to face encirclement by Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean. Given Greece’s Aegean islands on Turkey’s west coast, a fully Greek Cyprus would threaten Turkey in the south as well, creating a potential blockade scenario.

While it is clear that the politicians on both sides of the island—and on the mainland—are mostly opposed to furthering the unification, some other important news concerning the island came out on the same day that Mr. Sertoglu rebuffed his critics in the footballing world. On March 30, 2015 the TRNC’s foreign minister Ozdil Nami announced that the TRNC would halt their search for gas off the coast of Cyprus in order to resume peace talks. Back in October of 2014 the Turkish search for offshore hydrocarbons, in response to similar actions by the Cypriot government, provoked Cyprus to suspend peace talks with Turkey. It was posited that the energy search was just an excuse to end the talks, of course, but the end result was firm.

Just five months later it seems that relations have thawed, and Mr. Nami, speaking to state-run TV channel BRT, said that they had decided to withdraw the Turkish ship searching for gas off the TRNC coast as a “display of good-will” in response to the Greek Cypriot side’s similar withdrawal. While it does not seem that these two events are related—the CTFA’s letter to FIFA was sent earlier—Mr. Sertoglu’s confidence to voice such a harsh response to his critics was most likely born out of this relative thawing of relations.

 

If this “spring thaw” is not part of an April Fool’s day joke then it would seem that the seemingly innocuous world of football may yet prove to be one of the first concrete forms of cooperation between the hitherto opposed communities on the island. Even so, much more will have to be done to assuage the geopolitical concerns of both sides for a lasting reconciliation—and possible reunification—to take place on the island. Even in the footballing world, an agreement will not come easily. Mr. Sertoglu stated that either side could walk away from any potential deal: “The CFA [Cyprus Football Assocition] will not be the boss in the north. We have the right to abandon the agreement, but we have no such intention . . . We want to be FIFA members for the benefit of our people.” His counterpart in the CFA, Costas Koutsokoumnis, himself noted that it will “take some time” for Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides to play in a unified league.

 

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Barbed wire on a wall near the soccer pitch inside the United Nations controlled buffer zone separating the dived capital of Nicosia. Image Courtesy Of: http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory/turkish-cypriot-soccer-president-back-deal-30001361

Football and Geopolitics: The International Aspects of Domestic European Football

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In the wake of a “Catalan referendum” on November 10, 2014 where 80 percent of the two million voters voted for Catalan independence from Spain in what was a symbolic vote, The Guardian’s Sid Lowe asked a pertinent question for those of us interested in football and politics: Where will Barcelona and Espanyol play if Catalonia gets independence?

This is, of course, a complicated question. Former Barcelona coach and player Pep Guardiola cast his vote, along with Barcelona players Xavi Hernandez, Sergi Roberto, and Martin Montoya. Barcelona’s past and present presidents, Sandro Rosel and Joan Laporta, also did their civic duties. As Mr. Lowe outlines, the situation regarding the two biggest clubs in Catalonia is complicated:

“While Barcelona’s commitment to political Catalanism is more shifting and nuanced than is sometimes imagined, the two clubs’ histories and identities are different. Soon after the civil war, Marca wrote of Español as a club run by people ‘well known for their [Spanish] patriotism’ and of Barcelona as an institution that ‘used sport as a mouthpiece for an insufferable region.’ But Espanyol, whose name, contrary to the usual assumptions, was not chosen as a Spanish rejection of Catalanism or Catalonia, have used the Catalan spelling for almost 20 years and insist that if Barcelona is more than a club, so is Catalonia. Yesterday, their president Joan Collet voted too. During their game against Villarreal there were Catalan flags at the stadium. But there were Spanish flags too, and possibly more of them.

He goes on to explain:

“Barcelona [has been put] in an awkward position, one that forces them to confront uncomfortable issues. So mostly they have chosen not to confront them at all; the difference between the current board and that led by Laporta, whose convictions were far clearer, is striking. There has been silence, a veneer of apoliticism, an implicit wish that the trouble would just go away. It took the club a long time to publicly back the Catalans’ right to have the vote. And a week ago, Barcelona refused to authorise the unfurling of a banner that declared Catalonia Europe’s next state.”

But he points out clearly that “the sponsor on their shirts and all over the stadium reads ‘Qatar’. Their focus is increasingly international; both in terms of signings and supporters.” This is the most important point.

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Image Courtesy of: http://gulfbusiness.com/2013/09/united-arab-bank-signs-three-year-fc-barcelona-deal/#.VNP_r5XRe0s

 

Barcelona are now an international team, attracting supporters from all over the world, like their rivals Real Madrid. Perhaps this explains the odd situation where Spain—a country that arguably experienced the worst of the European Economic crisis—is home to both of Europe’s richest football clubs: Real Madrid is worth 3.44 Billion USD, Barcelona is worth 3.2 Billion USD. Of course this belies Spain’s economic state. Meanwhile the largely uncompetitive nature of the rest of La Liga—even making an exception for Atletico Madrid (who are also internationally sponsored, in this case by Azerbaijan, by the way)—is full of dull matches between the haves and have nots.

 

 

After reading Mr. Lowe’s article I decided to do some research on a topic I am familiar with, and the results are worth sharing. What many readers may not know is that Europe is full of clubs playing in leagues outside of their home countries. Some clubs are well known, others are minnows, but the concept of playing domestic matches “internationally” is hardly unprecedented, especially in Western Europe (as Mr. Lowe mentions, there is a provision even in Spain for clubs from Andorra to play in the league system: Sixth tier FC Andorra take advantage of this).

 

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Seen Here Lining up During the 1999-2000 Season in a Striking Umbro Kit. Image Courtesy of: http://www.fotoequipo.com/equipos2.php?Id=736

 

 

Perhaps the most well-known of the European clubs playing in a foreign league is AS Monaco, the “French” Monegasque side that has won seven Ligue 1 titles and were runners up in the 2004 European Champions League. The team hails from the Principality of Monaco, a minute city-state on the French Riviera home to 36,371 residents packed into just 0.78 square miles. As a sovereign state Monaco has been a member of the United Nations since 1993 but there is domestic football league so the team plays in France. The principality has been ruled by the House of Grimaldi since 1297; the family own 33.33 percent of the football team as well (The remainder is owned by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, one of the many examples of the rising internationalism of the football business that frees teams from the constraints of political boundries to some degree).

 

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We’re Serious—We May Play in France But We’re Not French! Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dmarge.com/2014/05/monaco-fc-reveals-201415-home-kit.html#show_image=1

 

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Of Course, We’ll Still Use the French (Monegasque) Riviera as a Backdrop. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2014/05/new-nike-as-monaco-14-15-kit.html

 

 

The United Kingdom is full of examples as well. The most prominent sides that come to mind are current English Premier League members Swansea City and former members Cardiff City. Swansea City have played in the English League system since 1913 and reached the Premier League in 2011-12—the first Welsh team to reach the top flight since the top flight’s rebranding in 1992, as well as the first Welsh club to represent England in European competition after winning the 2012-13 Football League Cup.

 

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Swansea City Line Up to Represent England in the Europa League With International Finance Company Goldenway’s Backing. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fiveyearplanfanzine.co.uk/features/5129-eye-on-the-opposition-swansea-city-a-29-11-2014.html

 

Cardiff City from the Welsh capital is currently in the second tier but remain the only club from outside England to have won the FA Cup (the triumph came in 1927)—the entity is named Cardiff City FC Limited, a member of the Football Association of Wales.

 

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Cardiff City and the FA Cup. Image Courtesy of: http://www.historicalkits.co.uk/Cardiff_City/Cardiff_City.htm

 

The third Welsh team playing in England’s top four leagues—therefore under the jurisdiction of the English FA for disciplinary and administration purposes—is Newport County AFC, playing in the Football League Two. See More about their history in this interesting blog, The Beautiful History.

Wrexham, Merthyr Town, and Colwyn Bay are the other three Welsh sides currently playing in the English league system. Since they are currently outside of the top four leagues they are under the jurisdiction of the Welsh FA but are eligible to play in the (English) FA Cup. One little fun fact: Chester FC’s Deva Stadium, the first British stadium to fulfill the Taylor Report’s safety recommendations following the Hillsborough disaster, is located in two countries! The pitch is in Wales, the club offices are in England (and the team plays in the English League system).

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://stadiums.football.co.uk/NonLeague/Deva-Stadium.htm

 

 

Outside of these well known clubs there are still other examples in Europe. Some stem from geography, others from politics. Liechtenstein is one of the world’s smallest countries and therefore has no domestic league. Teams from Liechtenstein compete for a national (Liechtensteiner) championship by playing in the Liechtenstein National Cup (The winners qualify for European competition), but they play their league football in the Swiss Football League. The most famous of these clubs is FC Vaduz, currently playing in Switzerland’s top flight, the Swiss Super League, but they cannot qualify for European competition via the Swiss League System.

 

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FC Vaduz Lift the 2013 Liechtensteiner Cup. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.uefa.com/memberassociations/association=lie/news/newsid=1947329.html

 

Despite having its own league (The Campionato Sammarinese di Calcio), the small nation of San Marino boasts one representative that plays in the third tier of Italian football, the Lega Pro: San Marino Calcio is the only Sanmarinese club to play in Italy.

 

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Probably Not a Coincidence That Club and Country Share the Same Colors. Image Courtesy of: http://www.taringa.net/posts/offtopic/18439109/Me-voy-a-San-Marino-y-te-cuento-porque.html

 

In Finland and Sweden there are also a few examples of teams plying their trade in leagues from across their borders—the Finnish side Lemlands IF currently play in the Swedish seventh tier as they are from the Åland Islands—an autonomous region of Finland with an ethnically Swedish population. For more examples from outside of Europe, please see Wikipedia’s page.

 

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Who Knew They Played Football Here? Image Courtesy Of: http://truthfall.com/oceanx-team-new-expedition-to-the-baltic-anomaly-sets-sail/aland-islands-baltic-sea/

 

 

In the Republic of Ireland there is the example of Derry City FC, a team that plays outside of their home country due to domestic political problems; the well-supported team currently play in the Republic of Ireland’s Premier Division but it wasn’t always so. Despite everything the very fact that the team still exists almost one hundred years after their founding in 1928 should give faith to those worried about Barcelona and Espanyol. For more than forty years the team played in the Northern Irish league, even winning a title in 1964-65, before political developments literally tore the team away from the city (Derry or Londonderry?).

 

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There is alot In a Name. Image Courtesy Of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derry/Londonderry_name_dispute#mediaviewer/File:Signpostinstrabane.JPG

 

At the start of the Troubles the republican areas around Derry City’s Stadium, Brandywell, fell victim to the violence and unionist teams did not want to visit. The Royal Ulster Constubulary, Northern Ireland’s police force, deemed the area around the stadium unsafe meaning that the team had to travel thirty miles away to play home matches in Coleraine. The arrangement lasted a year before dwindling crowds and increasing violence forced the club to apply for a return to Brandywell. The proposal went to a vote among fellow Irish league teams and it fell by a lone vote, forcing the team withdrew from the league on 13 October 1972 since they effectively had no home stadium.

From 1972 to 1985 the club suffered through “the wilderness years” without a senior club or a league to play in as their continuing applications to use Brandywell as a home ground were rejected. Many believe these rejections stem from the club’s identity as a nationalist/Catholic team coming from a nationalist/Catholic neighborhood of a mainly unionist city. With re-admission into the Northern Irish league looking unlikely the team applied for admission to the League of Ireland (the name of the Republic of Ireland’s league) and were accepted as semi-professional members of the first division in1985. Success came quickly and, in 1987, Derry City won promotion to the premier division where they have been ever since. The team has seen some success in the Republic’s football structure, winning the Premier League title in 1988-89 and 1997-97 as well as four FAI Cup titles in 1989, 1995, 2002, and 2006.

During the team’s time in Ireland financial struggles have been ever-present, with the team being expelled from the League of Ireland in 2009 due to large debts. The team has since been reformed as a “new” Derry City, entering the First Division in February 2010 and winning promotion back to the Premier League in October of the same year. Interestingly when the threat of bankruptcy loomed in 2003 it was, among others, FC Barcelona who came to the rescue by arranging a friendly so as to provide much needed cash for the struggling Derry City. Recently, on February 5 2015, the Londonderry Sentinel reported that the former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party Tom Elliot suggested that Derry City return to the Irish League in Northern Ireland. Carál Ní Chuilín, the Minister responsible for sports in Northern Ireland, stated “it is up to Derry City where they play, who they play with and who they play for.” It is certainly a development worth following in terms of the Republic’s relations with Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.

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The Derry City Faithful in Action. Image Courtesy Of: http://backpagefootball.com/an-aussie-abroad-derry-city-fc-my-new-favourite-club/65121/

An Interesting Derry City Documentary: 

The Most Famous Derry City Song: The Undertones-Teenage Kicks:

 

In the past we have also seen teams play in the leagues of different countries, mainly as a result of international political conflicts. Most famously Germany’s 1938 Anschluß with Austria led to the Austrian league’s incorporation into the German football structure until 1944; Rapid Vienna even won the German title in 1941!

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Rapid Vienna’s 1941 Title Lives on in Sepia After the Fall of the Reich. Image Courtesy Of: http://medienportal.univie.ac.at/presse/aktuelle-pressemeldungen/detailansicht/artikel/tagung-fussball-unterm-hakenkreuz/

For more details on teams from Czechoslovakia, France, Poland, and Luxembourg that joined the German football structure following the territorial irredentism of the German Reich during World War Two please see the RSSF’s stunningly detailed archive here.

Following the installation of a military junta in Greece the concept of enosis gained followers and in a bid to strengthen the union between Greeks in Cyprus with Greeks in Greece the champion of the Cypriot football league was promoted to the Greek first division from 1968 to 1974. Before the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974 ended this practice Olympiakos Nicosia, AEL Limassol, EPA Larnaca, AC Omonia Nicosia, and APOEL Nicosia FC (UEFA Champions League participants in 2014-15) all appeared in the Greek football structure.

 

Most recently we have seen the effect of geopolitical conflict on football in Ukraine. Two top flight Ukrainian clubs from the Crimea—the territory recently annexed by Russia—SC Tavriya Simferopol and FC Sevastopol (the latter whose Ukrainian League match with Dynamo Kiev I watched in Kiev two summers ago) have been admitted into the Russian football structure’s third tier with different names (FC TSK Simferopol and FC SKChF Sevastopol, respectively) so as to, at least nominally, be different teams. A third team from the Crimea, FC Zhemchuzhina Yalta, formerly of the Ukrainian Second Division, was also admitted into the Russian third tier for the 2014-2015 season. On 22 August 2014 UEFA stated that “any football matches played by Crimean clubs organised under the auspices of the Russian Football Union (RFS) will not be recognised by UEFA until further notice.” It seems like football in the Crimea will stay in limbo for some time to come.

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Tavriya Simferopol Ultras Voice Their Opinion. Image Courtesy Of: http://z6.invisionfree.com/UltrasTifosi/ar/t28786.htm

The situation regarding Barcelona and Espanyol in Catalonia should solidify in the future, but—as can be seen—there are many other interesting cases throughout Europe that are worth keeping an eye on as well, even if they do not involve such famous clubs.