By Andreas Vou
YOUNG Cypriot race car driver Tio Ellinas was voted Cyprus’ ‘Man of the Year’ and ‘Athlete of the Year’ of 2013 at Man Magazine’s annual award ceremony this week.
The 22-year-old had another impressive campaign which he capped off with a win in the final GP3 race of the season in Abu Dhabi last November.
In a country where football reigns supreme, it made for a refreshing change to see an athlete of a lesser-known sport being recognised for their achievements. Unfortunately, the problem for athletes of these other sports is that they rarely receive the necessary support.
After another year of not receiving any form of funding from the Cyprus Sports Organisation (KOA), Ellinas made clear the importance of such support upon collecting his first award.
“I thank my family who are always by my side, but also my sponsors,” he said. “Unfortunately the state did not support me and I hope that this year they will do, so that the national anthem will play around the world’s Formula 1 arenas.”
Larnaca native Ellinas is regarded as one of the brightest talents on the GP3 circuit and is tipped to reach Formula One in the not too distant future. The road to his success so far has been a long one; had it not been for the strong support of his family and private sponsorship, fulfilling his dream may not have been possible.
The same issue exists for countless other talented athletes on the island who are unable to maximise their potential due to a short-sighted and selfish approach from the powers that be.
In April last year, the Cyprus national rugby team broke the world record for consecutive international victories and are on the verge of a third straight promotion in the European divisions in just their eighth year of existence. Despite the team’s incredible success, the Rugby federation has failed to receive even the most basic of funding from KOA, with the players even having to pay for their own flights for international matches.
For 2013, KOA had a budget of €28 million. Subtracting admin wages, outstanding loans and other costs, KOA was left with a healthy sum of around €17 million which was supposed to be distributed to the various federations to develop and enhance their respective sports.
The lion’s share of that figure goes to football, thought to be in the region of €10m. Where does the rest of it go? Well if Ellinas isn’t getting anything, rugby isn’t getting anything and neither are other top sportsmen then we can make a pretty accurate assumption.
Football receives the majority of funding, and still, what do the youngsters see in return? Little to nothing goes towards youth development. The league has become an embarrassment, nothing more than a playground for agents and third-party companies to trade their assets. It continues to have the highest percentage of foreign players in Europe for the past three years which has lead to a decaying national team, one that now has the highest average age on the continent and has won just three of their last 30 games. Not to mention the countless envelopes sent from UEFA on match-fixing allegations which just end up in the bin.
The sad truth is that KOA is not willing to fund Cyprus’ young athletes until they see a way of making a return on them. They showed little interest in Pavlos Kontides before he won Olympic silver but politicians and KOA members were the first to shower him with gifts when he arrived from London, as was the case with Marcos Baghdatis – his family chose to move him to France from a young age to fulfill his potential as there was no support from the sporting body – but that all changed following his international success.
We need less phonies in suits spurting the same old rhetoric on how ‘the youth are our future’ and instead to demonstrate it with their actions. For an island of our size, we have produced a considerable amount of sporting talent; just imagine how many more we could produce with the appropriate support.
Sport can and should be a vehicle for progressive change rather than just another form of entertainment – those who are in the relevant positions of power need to look beyond personal gain and make a lasting contribution for all to be proud of.