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Turkish Cypriots To Join Soccer League

NICOSIA — Six decades of soccer separation on ethnically divided Cyprus may be at its end as breakaway Turkish Cypriots are poised to join the ranks of the Cyprus Football Association to bring the sport under a single administrative roof.

Deniz Birinci, the international relations coordinator of the Cyprus Turkish Football Association, said the body’s President Hasan Sertoglu will on March 30 set in motion the process to incorporate the CTFA into the Cyprus FA which is a member of both FIFA and UEFA.

The move is the culmination of drawn-out negotiations that resulted in a breakthrough provisional agreement in Zurich a year and a half ago.

The deal earned plaudits from both FIFA President Sepp Blatter and UEFA boss Michel Platini, who praised both sides for demonstrating soccer’s bridge-building power.

Although Greek and Turkish Cypriot teams playing in a unified league is still some time away, Birinci told the Associated Press that the development will bring FIFA and UEFA recognition to the CTFA and “open the world to our youth.”

Birinci said it took so long to get the process going because the CTFA wanted to ensure that there would be “no deviation from the provisional agreement in the least.”

Then again, 18 months is relatively quick given that the island’s two football bodies split in 1954 following a Greek-Cypriot uprising against British colonial rule.

Cyprus’ was split into a Turkish speaking north and an internationally recognized Greek speaking south in 1974 when Turkey invaded the north after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey.

Turkish Cypriot soccer has since wallowed in obscurity while the Greek Cypriots have enjoyed international exposure, even basking in some Champions League success three years ago when APOEL Nicosia earned a spot in the quarterfinal round.

Cyprus FA President Costas Koutsokoumnis said it will take plenty of time for a unified league to emerge as much negotiating still remains.

“The process is going to be long, we’ve been separated for 60 years and there are still psychological barriers we have to overcome,” he told The Associated Press.

But bringing the CTFA under the Cyprus FA administrative roof will ensure that the interests of Turkish Cypriot clubs and players are safeguarded as many are lured off the island with more lucrative contracts, said Koutsokoumnis.

But the deal hasn’t been without its detractors. Some Turkish Cypriot politicians suggested any such deal would imply Turkish Cypriot submission to Greek Cypriot authority.

Birinci said the cooperation between Sertoglu and Koutsokoumnis has been strong “despite any political pressure.”

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