KTFF suspends Conifa membership
Taken from this week's issue
The KTFF’s decision over its membership of the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (Conifa) came just days after North Cyprus had been named as one of the teams in Conifa’s Euro 2021 tournament to be held in Nice, France, in June.
Conifa was set up in 2013 for “international football teams from nations, de-facto nations, regions, minority peoples and sports-isolated territories” that are not members of football’s official governing body, Fifa.
Orçun Kamalı, KTFF vice president and a Conifa executive committee member, took part in the Euro 2021 draw, which put North Cyprus in Group A alongside County of Nice and Sardinia, as previously reported by this paper.
However following the draw, KTTF president Hasan Sertoğlu announced that North Cyprus will not be playing in the competition due to the pandemic and “financial difficulties”, but also because of the inclusion of a team called “Western Armenia” – a reference to an irredentist claim to territory in eastern Turkey.
“We have also suspended our membership of Conifa under these conditions,” Mr Sertoğlu said in a statement.
Taking part in an interview on BRT state television, Mr Sertoğlu slammed Conifa. “It is out of the question for us to be present while ‘Western Armenia’ are members of Conifa,” he said.
“Lately, some political groups . . . are being made members [of Conifa]. And I say openly that this has troubled us.”
KTFF also refused to take part in the 2019 Conifa European Football Cup, which included “Western Armenia” and was held in “Artsakh” – the Armenian name for part of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Last year’s Conifa World Football Cup was cancelled due to the global coronavirus outbreak. The last time North Cyprus took part in a Conifa tournament was in London for the World Football Cup, where “Western Armenia” were a “wild card” entry. North Cyprus finished runners-up after losing a penalty shoot-out in the final.
Speaking to Cyprus Today, Mr Kamalı said: “The whole concept of Conifa was supposed to be about making . . . states that are not recognised by the UN, but which exist, members.
“It is unfortunate that Conifa is becoming a political playground. We have decided to suspend our membership until ‘Western Armenia’ is no longer a member.”
Mr Kamalı added that North Cyprus had not taken part in the 2019 Conifa European Football Cup in a “show of solidarity with our brothers, Azerbaijan”.
He continued: “I know that many footballers will be upset at not being able to take part in the Conifa Euro 2021 tournament, as every player wants to play football and not mix politics into it. However we had to make a stand over issues that are highly sensitive.”
Mr Kamalı added that the KTFF is working with the Turkish FA to help Turkish Cypriot footballers due to the isolation of the TRNC.
Merit Alsancak Yeşilova striker and former Republic of Ireland U21 player Billy Mehmet told this paper that he and many other players were “disappointed” with the decision not to play at the “only international tournament that is accessible for North Cyprus”.
“I think politics should go out of the window when football is concerned,” he said. “Isn’t that what we have argued when approaching Fifa, to allow us to play there under our own identity even if they do not recognise us?
“I am 37 years old, so it is frustrating for me and many other players who really want to play as much as possible internationally and domestically. I don’t understand why the KTFF stopped us from playing the [domestic] league either. All we want is to play football, to go out there and win. No player ever thinks about politics on the pitch.”
Cyprus Today has asked Conifa for comment, but at the time of going to print no response had been received.