Rival Cyprus FAs closer to reunification deal

MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS Associated Press Published:

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) -- Officials from both sides of ethnically split Cyprus say they are closer to a deal that would reunify rival football organizations and allow breakaway Turkish Cypriots to play internationally.

"There's light at the end of the tunnel" for an agreement," Cyprus Football Association President Costas Koutsokoumnis said on Thursday after talks with Turkish Cypriot Football Association counterpart Hasan Sertoglu.

"We agree on most points, but we need to package them in a way that other people will accept them," Koutsokoumnis said.

Koutsokoumnis said he will meet again with Sertoglu at FIFA headquarters in Zurich in March in hopes of finalizing the deal.

FIFA official Primo Corvaro who attended the meeting at the Turkish Cypriot Association's headquarters, said the two sides are looking to hammer out an in-principle agreement in Zurich that will be followed up by additional meetings between officials from both sides to figure out how the deal would work.

Cyprus was split into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Only the Cyprus FA, in the island's south, is recognized by FIFA.

Football is the most popular sport on both sides of the divide and an agreement would be a boon for Turkish Cypriots who have languished in isolation for decades. By contrast, Greek Cypriot clubs have recently marked notable international successes, including former champion APOEL's stunning run last year to the Champions League quarterfinals.

Turkish Cypriots formed their own association in 1955 amid a flare-up of ethnic tensions during a Greek Cypriot uprising against British colonial rule at the time.

Numerous efforts to reunify the federations over the years have stumbled over the country's complex politics. A key reason has been a Turkish Cypriot reluctance to accept the authority of the Cyprus FA, a necessary precondition because FIFA doesn't accept two associations in one country.

If a deal is reached, it would stand in stark contrast to the latest round of talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriot political leaders aimed at reunifying the country which have stalled.

Koutsokoumnis said both sides would stand to benefit from reunifying football.

"I hope that they can sort something out, it's a shame for our young people because there are many talented players," said 82-year-old Sevim Ebeoglu, a veteran Turkish Cypriot footballer who won three championships with southern club AEL in the early 1950s.