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Sport back on the front line of Cypriot political divide

Jerome Champagne, who is standing for the FIFA presidency in next year’s elections, was one of the key architects of the eventual agreement between the two halves of the island, and was instrumental in helping start negotiations in 2007

By Peter Stevenson

A football player claims to have received death threats after becoming the first Greek Cypriot to join a Turkish Cypriot team for more than half a century.

Demetris Vassiliou, 35, says he has been the target of abuse both personally and via social networking sites, since news broke that he had signed for Degirmenlik in the second tier in northern Cyprus.

The enclave, officially recognized only by Turkey, was carved up after Turkey’s invasion of north Cyprus in 1974, following a brief Greek-inspired coup.

“I never wanted to cause any problems and I wasn’t looking to make a political statement with my actions,” Vassiliou told Reuters.

“I just wanted to play football and the opportunity presented itself at a club which happened to be in the north, which was willing to pay me more than triple any club was prepared to pay me on this (the Greek Cypriot) side.”

But since signing for Degirmenlik, the 35-year-old father of two has lost his job coaching his local side, Omonoia Aradippou’s Under-15s and says he has also been threatened with the possibility of a transfer to a warehouse position by his superiors at the semi-state owned Electricity Authority.

He claims to have received threats to his life via text messages.

“Following my first training session with the club after signing with them I came home to find I had 30 missed calls and a number of abusive text messages and figured something had gone wrong,” Vassiliou said.

“I’m not the first person to go to the north in search of work and I won’t be the last but the treatment I’ve received has been very unfair.”

Hasan Sertoglu, president of the Cyprus Turkish Football Association, told Reuters he was “very disappointed” by the saga.

Turkish Cypriot clubs cannot presently play in international fixtures because of the ongoing stalemate on the divided island.

But the CTFA signed a “provisional arrangement” with the Cyprus Football Association (CFA) in November last year in which both sides agreed in principle that the CTFA would become a member of the CFA after 59 years of separation.

Almost a year on, both sides appear to be waiting for each other to ratify the agreement.

Jerome Champagne, who is standing for FIFA presidency in next year’s elections, was one of the key architects of the eventual agreement between the two halves of the island, and was instrumental in helping to start the negotiations in 2007 when he was FIFA’s Director of International Relations.

The 56-year-old Frenchman, who is an adviser to the CTFA, told Reuters on Monday that the initiative was designed to help football in the whole of Cyprus and should not be about political point-scoring.

“All of this is about football, not politics. Two courageous FA presidents are trying to reunify the game for the good of the football communities, the local youth and the whole island. They deserve to be fully supported,” he said.

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