Next month, the national football team of North Cyprus will be competing in the Paddy Power 2018 CONIFA World Cup in London. The team, one of 16 to take part, will be playing its group matches at Enfield Town in North London.
The tournament starts on 31 May and is organised by the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA), which enables countries and regions not represented by FIFA to participate. Other teams competing in the ‘alternative world cup’ include Tibet, Sri Lanka’s Tamil Eelam and Matabeleland from Africa.
Even before a single ball has been kicked, the international tournament has been subject to criticism, as communities and embassies in London with vested political interests publicly object to some of the teams playing. Among those to protest the CONIFA World Cup are the Greek Cypriot National Federation and South Cyprus High Commission in London, who have tried to intimidate clubs from not hosting the games involving North Cyprus, prompting a strong backlash from the British Turkish Cypriot community.
“They have done so much to include the excluded, to give visibility to the forgotten, and create an environment of unity, friendship and camaraderie through the platform of ‘the beautiful game’”
Human rights group Embargoed! has also been vocal about the need to allow North Cyprus to play. For the past decade, the organisation has been at the forefront of highlighting the injustices and absurd challenges Turkish Cypriots face due to a lack of recognition of their fundamental political and human rights. This includes a ban on direct flights and trade, and even friendly games of international football. One of Embargoed!’s most memorable campaigns was ‘Balls to Embargoes, Footballers Strip for their Rights’ at the end of 2005, which was covered by media across the globe.
Last week, Embargoed! chair Fahri Zihni met with Sascha Düerkop (pictured together above, with Mr Zihni on the right) the General Secretary of CONIFA to discuss how best to support the 2018 tournament. So impressed was Mr Zihni with the efforts of the two CONIFA co-founders, Sascha Düerkop and Per-Anders Blind, that he has called for them to be “seriously considered” for the Nobel Peace Prize for their work.
“They have done so much to include the excluded, to give visibility to the forgotten, and create an environment of unity, friendship and camaraderie through the platform of ‘the beautiful game’, football, to so many people from all around the world,” added Mr Zihni in a statement on Embargoed!’s Facebook group page.
North Cyprus is one of the favourites to lift the CONIFA World Cup. The Embargoed! head urges Turkish Cypriots and North Cyprus well-wishers to, “Go out and support Northern Cyprus and all the other teams and have a great fun day out for the whole family!”
Visit the CONIFA website for more details about games, venues and tickets.