Football and Russia
THERE are times when events around the world seem surreal. Last month, three people became critically ill in Salisbury, southern England, after coming into contact with chemical weapons.
Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia, and a senior police officer were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent, now identified as novichok. The prime suspect was the Russian state, which has a track record of striking against dissidents using chemical weapons.
The Kremlin vehemently denies any role in the attack and has tried to discredit Britain’s account. Yet its position will have become weaker following a report, made public earlier this week, by an independent body which verified that UK military experts had correctly identified the nerve agent.
The independent Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), based in The Hague, asked four laboratories around the world to check the properties of the nerve agent found in Salisbury. All four confirmed it was high-grade novichok. The OPCW does not seek to identify the source of the nerve agent. However, Britain will feel more confident about its initial conclusion in blaming the Russians, given the Kremlin’s history in manufacturing this chemical weapon and the purity of the batch found in Salisbury, which UK ministers argue can only be produced through state resources.
The incident and international fallout from it seems like a plot from a James Bond movie, and there are no signs the issue will end any time soon. Along with the recriminations, there have been mass expulsions of Russian diplomats by Britain and its allies, followed by counter-expulsions from Russia. The UK government has also threatened to stop the English national side from competing at this summer’s football World Cup in Russia.
I’m no fan of mixing sports and politics. It requires a huge amount of commitment and self-sacrifice to be at the top of one’s game; a shortlived career for any athlete due to the physical process of ageing. To deny them the chance to compete at the highest level against their peers is not fair and rarely will it deliver any positive political results.
Turkish Cypriots know all about the unfairness of sports embargoes. For decades, North Cyprus’s lack of political recognition at the United Nations has prevented our athletes from participating at major international events such as the Olympics and the Fifa-run regional and global tournaments. Four generations of sportsmen and women have had to either take out citizenship in the mainland and compete for Turkey, or wave goodbye to their chance of performing against fellow top athletes from around the world.
Over the years, alternative sports platforms have been formed to give an outlet to these unrepresented men and women. One of them is the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (Conifa), which allows countries and regions not represented by Fifa to participate.
Next month, North Cyprus will be among the 16 teams competing for the Paddy Power 2018 Conifa World Football Cup in London. News that the TRNC national side will be playing their group matches at Enfield Town Football Club angered some hardline Greek Cypriots, who quickly set about trying to prevent them from going ahead.
Christos Karaolis, president of the National Federation of [Greek] Cypriots (NFC) in the UK, wrote to Doug Taylor, leader of Enfield Council, saying he was “extremely disappointed to see that Enfield Council will allow the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium to host the football team self-described as ‘Northern Cyprus’ as part of the CONIFA 2018 Paddy Power World Football Cup to be held in London between 31 May and 9 June.”
Describing the decision to host the matches at Enfield Town FC as an “insult [to] Enfield’s significant Cypriot population”, Mr Karaolis urged Mr Taylor and his council colleagues “to prevent Enfield Council-owned property from being used to promote an illegal occupation regime”.
Conifa, the Association of Turkish Cypriots Abroad, Baroness Hussein-Ece and other Turkish Cypriots all made their feelings clear that politics have no place in sport and that the NFC do not represent Turkish Cypriots. Thankfully Enfield Council also decided to step away from the issue, stating: “The QE II Stadium is owned by Enfield Council but the football pitch, surrounding spectator areas and connected buildings are leased on a long-term basis to Enfield Town Football Club Supporters Society Ltd for use by Enfield Town FC. The Council does not have any power over the way the Club is run.”
That paves the way for North Cyprus to play all three group games at Enfield Town, starting with their opening match against Felvidek from Hungary at 3pm on Thursday, May 31. With one in five residents in the borough a Turkish speaker, this should feel like a “home from home” for our boys, who are among the favourites to lift the alternative World Cup. Of course, there’s a small matter of survival first.
A proxy way between the US and Russia over Syria has intensified again and a new Cold War is afoot, with both sides upping the stakes in the latest wave of brinkmanship. President Trump is threatening to hit Russian-backed Syria following allegations the Assad regime again used chemical weapons against civilians. UK PM Theresa May has backed the Americans, which could see the British bases in Cyprus active in strikes against Syria.
A tweet from President Trump on Wednesday gave a clear warning to the Kremlin: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
No doubt the Russians, camped out in force 100 miles away in Syria, will not take kindly to these threats and happily strike back.
If only this was a James Bond movie. At least then we would be guaranteed a happy ending. Hoping common sense and peace prevails, and we’re not all toast in the near future!
A combo photo of Sergei Skripal (left) and his daughter Yulia