President sends strong message of peace at bicommunal football match

A bicommunal football match was held on Tuesday at the mixed village of Pyla between Greek Cypriot Salamina FC and Turkish Cypriot Magusa FC, in the presence of President of the Republic of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades, who sent a strong message of hope and peace to both communities.

The match was organised by the international organisation Peace and Sport, the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation and supported by UNFICYP. It was also attended by UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Cyprus, Elizabeth Spehar, Stelios Hadzioannou, the Peace and Sport Chairman Joel Bouzou, Vice Chairman of Peace and Sport Didier Drogba, opposition AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou, Famagusta Mayor Alexis Galanos, ambassadors from Australia, Finland, France, Italy, Germany, Portugal and the UK, the Greek Cypriot negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis, Pyla Community leader Simos Mitides, Nea Salamina president Thoukis Thoukididis and Magusta president Turk Gucu.

Meanwhile, before the match, children that attend the two football clubs’ academies, trained while Didier Drogba participated in an activity where the children were taught basic karate moves.

Before the kick off, President Anastasiades sent a message of peace and friendship as the match fully adheres to these ideals, demonstrating that sports can be a valuable tool in promoting dialogue, cooperation and understanding between our two communities.

He said that he was not in Pyla to make a political speech but to send a strong message of hope and peace to both communities and the younger generations.

Anastasiades said it was originally planned for his dearest friend Mustafa Akinci to attend in order for both of us to send this common message. For the well-known reasons, he failed to attend.

The President said that despite any differences we may have with my friend Mustafa, he and I share a common vision for achieving lasting peace, stability and prosperous collaboration in our island through a comprehensive, viable and functional settlement to the Cyprus problem.

A solution, he continued, that will be to the benefit of all Cypriots, meeting the expectations, sensitivities, addressing the concerns of both communities and ensuring mutual respect and peaceful coexistence of all citizens, regardless of the ethnic, cultural and religious diversity “.

In his address, the President of the Republic also said that “we have the courage to acknowledge the mistakes of the past and to understand the path that we must follow in the future. This current unacceptable situation is not a viable option, “he said, adding that” it is only through the achievement of lasting security and stability that we will be able to fully develop our countrys prospects.”

In her address, Spehar thanked the organisers and said the match allowed young people from both sides to come together.

“For those of us privileged enough to be in the audience today, we are spectators of an all-too-rare moment: a soccer match from across the divide, a game played in friendly competition, and in peace” she said, adding that sports diplomacy is what we are seeing today.

She added that peace efforts need to land on fertile soil and noted that sports can be a vehicle, especially for youth, to create the conditions for a successful reunification process by helping to build the necessary bridges across the divide.

“Today is a welcome contribution to that bridge-building, towards a better, united future”, she said.

Addressing the event, Joel Bouzou said that today sports’ diplomacy was being honoured. “Being here in Pyla, with the highest political leaders, two football clubs, plus children from the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities with their parents, is highly symbolical. It demonstrates that sport can bring hope. It can bring people together”.

Today, he said, we are celebrating the diplomatic power of sport, and we are honoured by the presence of President Anastasiades.

He added that sport can foster communication notwithstanding political, religious, or community differences.

We are delighted, he said, to organize this event in partnership with the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation and with the support of UNFICYP, the European Parliament, the European Commission and said it is unique because it unites diverse groups of people.

“I sincerely hope that this Friendly Football Day will provide a sustainable basis for building more peaceful communities in Cyprus”, he concluded.

Football legend Didier Drogba said that they want to send a message of peace, hope and solidarity, expressing certainty that sport can contribute to dialogue and peace, while uniting peoples all over the world.

Sir Stelios Hadjioannou said that the youth that played today are the real people of Cyprus who will begin to understand that through cooperation there can be peace on the island.

He also expressed the conviction that this event would be repeated and noted that “the two teams are an example of bi-communal cooperation”.

Asked about the fact that the Turkish Cypriot leader chose not to be present at the event, Hadjionannou referred to the film “Lost in Translation” and said “there was a misunderstanding whether this stadium is or is not in the buffer zone.

He said that the next match must either be in the buffer zone, under the auspices of the UN, somewhere maybe near Nicosia, or there should be two games, one in a Greek Cypriot football field and one in a Turkish Cypriot football field so as to have both leaders attending.

Before the kick off, artists Costas Demetriou and Erkan Canli sang Cypriot songs, while in the half-time Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot groups danced traditional dances.

In the first half the score was 1-0 in favor of Salamina, while a second goal was scored during the second half when teams were mixed with Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot players. Shortly before the end of the match, referee Leontios Tratos scored a goal thus sending the message of the day, namely peace, friendship and cooperation.

The match was followed by an award ceremony while Bouzou congratulated the teams and thanked all who attended the event and said that the organisation is committed to continue organising such events together with the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation.

Before the match the organisers rallied around the symbol of a #WhiteCard , a sign of commitment to peace efforts worldwide.

‘White Card’ takes its name from ‘Carton Blanc’, a highly-acclaimed travelling photo exhibition by Maud Bernos which highlights the faces of those who are at the very heart of Peace and Sport’s action and who are its tireless driving force: children.

Source: Cyprus News Agency