NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — In an effort to do away with decades of isolation, the president of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot soccer association said Monday he's determined to follow through with a decision to join the Cyprus Football Association.
Hasan Sertoglu said he has already sent a letter notifying FIFA that the Cyprus Turkish Football Association is bringing its statutes in line with international norms. He said that will enable them to join the internationally recognized Cypriot association.
Sertoglu lashed out at critics he says are trying to undermine the move because they see it as a blow to Turkish Cypriot autonomy in the ethnically divided country.
"This is not a political issue. We're doing it for the future of our youth," Sertoglu said. "You can scream at me all you want, you won't be able to stop us."
The letter addressed to FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said the move affirms the CTFA's decision to "regain our place, with all rights and obligation in the CFA which was founded in 1934 with the active role and participation of Turkish Cypriot officials, clubs and players."
Cyprus' two soccer bodies split in 1954 following a Greek-Cypriot uprising against British colonial rule. The island was divided two decades later into a Turkish speaking north and an internationally recognized Greek speaking south after Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey.
Without any access to international competition over the decades, Turkish Cypriot soccer has atrophied and fallen on financial hard times. On the other hand, Greek Cypriot teams under the CFA have enjoyed moderate success at the international level, most recently with APOEL Nicosia making it into the Champions League quarterfinals three years ago.
The CTFA's move fulfills a key condition embedded in a breakthrough provisional agreement that Sertoglu and Cypriot association president Costas Koutsokoumnis signed in Zurich a year and a half ago.
Sertoglu said the statute upgrade should take about 40 days, at which time he will call an extraordinary general assembly for CTFA member clubs to ratify the amendments.
But the deal has rattled some Turkish Cypriots, including powerful politicians, who consider it as submission to Greek Cypriot authority.
Sertoglu was especially critical of Serdar Denktash, the north's tourism, culture and sports minister, who he said had hastily sent letters late last week to all soccer club presidents condemning the decision as "suicide" for the Turkish Cypriot political cause.
"Take your hands off football," said Sertoglu, who also pushed back against Turkish Football Federation President Yildirim Demiroren, whose attempt to open a TFF branch in the north was rebuffed by FIFA.
In an apparent act of retaliation, Denktash reportedly broke off relations with the CTFA.
Sertoglu said under the provisional agreement, the Cypriot soccer association recognizes the CFTA as the sole soccer authority in the north.
"The CFA will not be the boss in the north," said Sertoglu, adding that either side can unilaterally walk away from the deal without creating a precedent. "We have the right to abandon the agreement, but we have no such intention. ... We want to be FIFA members for the benefit of our people."
Koutsokoumnis has said it will take some time before Greek and Turkish Cypriot teams play in a unified league because there are still many details to hammer out and psychological barriers to overcome.