Cyprus Mail

Diaspora welcome for Cyprus athletes

Over the past ten days, our 46-strong Cypriot team has outdone themselves in everything from athletics to shooting, gymnastics, swimming, beach volleyball, boxing, wrestling, and cycling at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast of Queensland, Australia. Taking place every four years, the Games is a sporting event at which our little island excels: we’re ranked 17th in the medal tables (compared to 119th in the Olympics, where sailor Pavlos Kontides is our sole medal winner) taking, as a country, 39 golds, silvers, and bronzes over the years. And that’s not including the most recent Games, in which gymnast Marios Georgiou won gold in both floor and parallel bars, while shooters Andri Eleftheriou and George Achilleos beat out the competition to take gold in their respective skeet events.

It’s an incredible achievement for our tiny island nation, and one well worthy of celebration. But, in true sporting fashion, it’s not the winning that matters, but the taking part. And, with our athletes over 14,000km from home, that all-encompassing spirit of participation has extended to include not just the coaches and support staff, but a legion of local Australian Cypriots who kept spirits soaring for the duration of this high-profile sporting event…

A relatively small community in comparison to the diaspora of Melbourne and Sydney (cities which both play home to hundreds of thousands of Australian Cypriots) the Cypriot Community of Queensland numbers less than 9,000. But, thanks to the group’s passionate support for their ‘home team’, our athletes enjoyed during the Games an unprecedented boost to their collective confidence…

Rallying their numbers in support of their countrymen and women, the community was out in force from the get-go: when the team arrived at Brisbane International at midnight on March 29 and April 2, weary and drained after such a lengthy flight, spirits were raised by an incredible welcome… Despite the late hour, Cypriot supporters had shown up en masse to cheer on their countrymen and women!

“We were so thrilled about supporting our team!” says Demitri Nicolaou, a leading light of the Cyprus Community of Queensland and the President of Cypriot global youth organisation NEPOMAK. “Australia is known as a sporting nation while, on the grand scale of things, Cyprus is pretty small. So it was very exciting to have our athletes here for the Games, and be able to support them from the moment they arrived. Even before the Games had begun, the President of our community, Stathis Zambas, had sent out an open invitation asking if anyone could meet the athletes on their arrival, cheer them on and show them that, though they might be thousands of miles from home, there was a real strength of support…

“Well, we thought we’d get maybe 40 people if we were lucky,” Demitri chuckles. “I mean, it was the middle of the night, we’ve got jobs and families. But in the event, over 100 members of our community showed up, waving Cyprus flags and greeting the team with chants in Greek and English! I think,” he adds, “the athletes were pretty overwhelmed by the level of support; they certainly weren’t expecting that sort of a reception! They took photos and videos and stopped to chat, had a good mingle with the crowd, and exclaimed over the unexpected amazing showing.”

While the airport arrival is a truly heart-warming example of how Cypriots abroad turn out to support their countrymen – “It felt fantastic to see so many locals show up in support of our athletes!” remarks Erodotos Miltiadous, the team’s press attaché who travelled to the Gold Coast along with the competitors. “The welcome at the airport was a highlight for everyone on the team!” – it was only the start of the story…

Gymnast Marios Georgiou

Before the Games had even begun, a programme of events in which team members were competing was sent to every member of the community, encouraging them to buy tickets and attend events. A large meet-and-greet for the athletes was also held, with several hundred locals turning up to show support for their sporting countrymen and women. And, during the 10 days of the Games, Demitri adds, “we were there for whatever was needed. Obviously the athletes stay at the village, and they’ve got thousands of volunteers on site to look after them. But, as Cypriots, we’re always there for our fellow countrymen and women. Even the High Commissioner to Australia was in attendance, showing her support for the athletes.”

Speaking for the athletes, press attaché Erodotos was delighted by the levels of support throughout the Games. “It felt really great to see Cypriots and the flag at the stands,” says Erodotos. “These are the second biggest Games on the planet and, in many ways, the competition is the equivalent of the Olympics. The athletes have the opportunity to face off against athletes of an Olympic calibre in all sorts of sports…”
Demitri himself talks enthusiastically of the volleyball match between Cyprus and Scotland he attended, and the many members of the community who bought tickets, made banners and generally kept Cypriot spirits high for the duration. “These are Cyprus’ best athletes, and we want to support them because we’re Cypriot too; even though many of us are second generation we all still think of Cyprus as our homeland.

“Sure, we’ve assimilated as Australians, we’re Australian as well. But whenever we have the chance to support Cyprus, we’re there!” he concludes, adding that Cypriot communities worldwide are remarkable for their unfaltering support of fellow citizens abroad.
“It’s certainly not very often we get to support athletes from maybe the same village, or athletes who are friends of friends so many thousands of miles away. And, ultimately, I think this sort of support works both ways: not only were the Games great for the local team, they’re great for us. As Australians, the Games helped us to keep our identity as Cypriots, no matter how far we all are from home!”

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