Foot­ball and Rus­sia

Cyprus Today - - OPINION - With Ipek Öz­erim

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

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