Flashing lights, countless police vehichles and blue capped UN soldiers awaited as I drove down the road leading to the checkpoint connecting the north and the south this evening. What could possibly be going on? I wondered to myself. Then it quickly dawned on me; tonight was the night that Turkish Professional Football Club Fenerbahce takes on Greek Cypriot Club AEL in a highly anticipated Europa League match. The police officers and soldiers awaited the bus loads of incoming Fenerbahce fans crossing from the north to the south to ensure that there would not be any violent clashes as they crossed over to the Greek Cypriot South. Thankfully, it seemed to me that the precautions were a bit overboard as I only saw excited Fenerbahce Fans awaiting to cross the checkpoint and no one awaiting them other than the authorities monitoring their safety.
The Turkish Football Club was not crossing at the checkpoint alongside all of their fans, due to the fact that Turkish Citizens are not allowed to cross from the north to the south of the country. Thus the Footballers had to fly through Greece and enter the country from one of the airports located in The Republic of Cyprus. Tensions remain high and many people are anxious that the game will bring about violent clashes amongst fans. Leading up to the match there were rumors that national flags, a common site at most international football games, would be banned because they could spark violence. But a week before the game the chairman of the AEL Limassol, Andreas Sofokleus, reassured Fenerbace fans that Turkish flags would be allowed.
In the end Fenerbahçe beat AEL Limassol 1-0 but some say the real victory was in the fact that there were no serious outbreaks of violence during or after the game. Nevertheless the negative energy surrounding the game reminds me how much sports ignite such passion within individuals. This deep seeded power of a game can prove to further divide individuals and societies or it can be harnessed and used to unite. If only the fans and the players of the two clubs could see the positive power that the game of basketball has had in transforming the perceptions and attitudes of our young Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot youth, maybe they too could be inspired by the positive power of a game.