Cyprus football eyes reunion after 60-year divorce

Charlie Charalambous

Nicosia (AFP) - Aiming to end 60 years of sporting isolation, Turkish Cypriots in the breakaway north applied Monday to join the Cyprus Football Association which runs the game on the divided island.

The Greek Cypriot-run CFA announced on its website that it has received a letter from the Cyprus Turkish Football Association (CTFA) on its decision to go ahead with all the "necessary actions" to become a member.

A copy of the letter was also sent to football's world governing body FIFA and European body UEFA.

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The first step in the process is for the CTFA to harmonise its constitution with the CFA's which will take about 40 days, said the CFA.

"Then the Turkish Cypriots will be able to proceed with the next step, submitting an application to join the CFA," it said in a statement.

The move follows a landmark deal brokered by FIFA between the two sides on November 5, 2013 in Switzerland, in what FIFA hailed at the time as a "major milestone" in the history of football in Cyprus.

However, details of the deal's implementation still have to be worked out by CFA and CTFA, with FIFA's help, and it could take several years to come into effect.

CTFA boss Hasan Sertoglu held a press conference Monday to confirm he had sent the request, despite having been accused of "selling out" Turkish Cypriot autonomy.

He said he was determined to go through with the union for the future of sport and football in the north.

"A new era is beginning in the history of Turkish Cypriot football. I believe we are doing the right thing. Everyone should be optimistic," he said.

The provisional agreement signed in Zurich by CFA president Costakis Koutsokoumnis and Sertoglu paves the way for Turkish Cypriot participation in CFA competitions, representation in CFA delegations, club friendly matches and club international friendlies among other issues.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops occupied the island's northern third in response to an Athens-engineered coup seeking union with Greece.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Turkey.

Its football team is not part of FIFA or European federation UEFA, with the squad from the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus the island's sole representative in the global game.

A Turkish Cypriot squad does see unofficial action, however, in a federation of teams such as Tibet, Chechnya and Darfur.

- Split older than occupation -

The Cypriot football divide pre-dates the political split and the progress in the sporting field comes as UN-brokered peace talks are mired in a deadlock.

Six Greek Cypriot clubs and two from the Turkish community founded the CFA in 1934.

But the CTFA was created in 1955 when the Turkish Cypriots pulled out of island-wide football as ethnic tensions spiralled before independence from Britain in 1960.

Turkish Cypriot clubs decided to form their own federation and organise separate competitions but they remain isolated from international competition.

Countless United Nations peace initiatives have failed to reunify the island. Sporting contact of any kind between the two sides has been rare.

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