This week the PPI-CY staff attended a high school basketball game in Nicosia between the Greek-Cypriot public high school of Saint Vasilios, and a bicommunal private high school, the English School. For the past two years PPI-CY has run club teams at the English School, consisting of over 40 Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot boys and girls. Many of the same players on the club team also play on the official school team, so Monday of this week we went to their game to show our support.
When we arrived at the Agios Vasilios gymnasium, the game was already under way and the English School had an early lead. Despite being in the middle of the game, some of the players smiled and waved from the bench, excited to see their PeacePlayers coaches sitting in the stands.
But before long we realized that the atmosphere in the gym was less than positive. In the stands with us were a group of teenagers wearing black sweatshirts with the names and faces of former Greek-Cypriot extremists printed on them. They were pointing out that the kids playing for the English School team were Turkish, and began using offensive language towards them.
After a hard fought game, the English School came away with the win. But the excitement of the victory was quickly overshadowed when a small blast went off in the entryway of the gym. The teenagers ran away laughing, and no one was hurt. But as we went over to congratulate our boys on the win, their mood was somber.
“It was for us,” one of our Turkish-Cypriot kids said referring to the blast. “We heard them talking about us from the other end of the court and we knew they were going to do something.”
We would explain to our kids that the teenagers were just hooligans that enjoy disrupting sporting events, and their actions were not directly targeted at them. But as negative experiences like these affect children’s lives, it becomes even harder to overcome the fear and stereotypes into which they can so easily fall back.
Unfortunately incidents involving hooliganism, especially related to sports, have been a rising trend in Cyprus. Political party ideologies are influencing sports teams, and sports clubs are encouraging fans to act out, many times in very violent ways. Just two weeks before the incident at the English School game, out-of-control fans at a local football match stabbed an off-duty police officer for wearing the colors of the opposing team.
While PeacePlayers-Cyprus’ mission is to use sports to bridge divides between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, this cannot be achieved unless we also teach kids respect for the game and each other. By teaching our kids the values of sportsmanship and fair play, we can help them to see the negative effects hooliganism has on their favorite sports and in their lives.