A young billiards player from the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus is the new Girls 8-Ball Dynamic Billiard European Pool Champion. Alara Ghaffari came from behind to beat her Polish opponent Izabella Jonska 5-4 and win the gold medal in a thrilling final game in Slovenia on Monday.
Last year, the talented Turkish Cypriot had to settle for a silver and two bronzes at the European Youth Championships. She went one better in 2023.
Ghaffari had already won a bronze in the 10-ball division on Saturday before stepping up to win gold against an opponent she had beaten earlier in the competition.
The 18-year-old had to dig deep against Jonska, who had built up a strong lead in the final and at 4-1 looked set to win the game. Ghaffari had other ideas, going on to win four straight games and the match and be crowned European Champion.
After the match, Ghaffari expressed her delight at her victory: “It’s my last year in the Youth Championships, so I’m so happy about this title. I was grinding and grinding so many years for this.
“Actually, I don’t know why but when I was down 4-1, I was relaxed and just potted every ball, ball-by-ball, rack-by-rack and suddenly it was 4-4 and I can’t remember the last rack! It was incredible!”
Greek Cypriot pressure against TRNC athletes
Behind the scenes, the North Cyprus Billiards Federation (BFNC) Head Aşkın Burcu was battling to ensure Ghaffari was allowed to compete as a Turkish Cypriot, although the team’s TRNC flag was banned from being displayed alongside other national flags at the tournament.
According to comments by Burcu to TRNC media, the tournament organisers had faced political pressure to remove the TRNC flag following complaints from the Greek Cypriot authorities to the government of host nation Slovenia. The complaints led to the Slovenian officials issuing an ultimatum to the tournament organisers to remove the TRNC flag or have the event suspended.
Speaking to TRNC media after Ghaffari’s win, Burcu said: “For 17 years, we have ensured that our athletes and clubs are represented in European Championships under the TRNC Flag. But it is seen that the Greek Cypriot Administration was so disturbed by our position and power in European Billiards and have given great importance to this issue that; during the last two European Championships, and especially after the start of the championship [tournament] the Ministry of Sports of the country where the championship [tournament] is being held is requested to prevent the use of the TRNC flag in their country by sending official state-to-state letters.
“Therefore, on the third day of the championship, the Slovenian authorities gave a directive to the European Pocket Billiards Federation, EPBF, and the Slovenian Billiards Federation that the flag in question must be removed or, if it was not removed, the championship would be stopped.
“Many meetings were held with EPBF officials about this matter, and opinions were received from international sports lawyers. In the light of this information, of course, there are steps we can take and we will continue to fight, but at this point, we need to discuss the issue with our own officials and evaluate them together. A more detailed statement will be made in the coming days.”
North Cyprus Billiards Federation overcoming the sports embargo
The BFNC has been a member of the European Pocket Billiard Federation (EPBF) since 2006 and their TRNC identity has been accepted by the body. This is a rarity for a TRNC sports body, which are normally — and unjustly — kept out of international sporting bodies and competitions through Greek Cypriot pressure and their respective federation’s veto.
In the case of the EPBF, the BFNC joined seven years before their South Cyprus counterparts, ensuring that Turkish Cypriots cannot be pushed out and are instead represented on an equal footing to Greek Cypriots.
The fact that Turkish Cypriots can compete freely in billiards with their peers at the highest international levels has also helped the sport in the TRNC to flourish. Many young Turkish Cypriot athletes have enjoyed success winning medals across all age groups and divisions.
Last year, for example, a TRNC Men’s U23 category entered the EPBF Euro Tour competition where European Champion Mustafa Alnar also became the 8-ball Euro Tour Champion and Osman Canlisoy won a silver medal in the 9-ball division.
In April 2014, the TRNC Billiards Federation hosted a European competition by the EPBF, which saw nearly 250 athletes from 33 European countries participate at the tournament held in Acapulco Hotel, Girne.
Main image, top, of Alara Ghaffari winning the 2023 Girls 8-ball European Championship trophy, 24 July2023. Cropped photo © EPBF/2023