A group of children pose under the official event banner before heading to a nearby school for the day's action.
Last Saturday, September 25, over 220 children, parents, coaches and volunteers gathered in Nicosia for the International Peace Day Basketball Tournament. One by one, Turkish-Cypriot teams from the north of Cyprus crossed through the Ledra Street checkpoint, where they were met by several Greek-Cypriot teams, waiting for them on the other side. Soon the group began to grow larger as more kids from all over the island showed up. At 2:45pm the entire party marched together through the old city to the basketball courts of a nearby school. As they got closer, kids started running, excited to get their new jerseys and discover who would be on their basketball teams.
Bicommunal basketball teams played some tightly competitive games in pursuit of the tournament championships.
After some warm ups, all the kids gathered for an introduction by PPI-Cyprus’ Managing Director, Marina Vasilara. Marina explained that the kids would play on teams of four, with two Turkish-Cypriot and two Greek-Cypriot players on each team. Many of the children would play with kids they had never met. As Marina explained at a press conference prior to the tournament, “The aim of this event is to bring children from different communities together to play basketball in an inclusive and fun-filled environment, implementing the idea that sport can be used as a tool to help break down social divides and begin to change the negative perceptions children may have about the other community.”
Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot players bonding after a game.
This is the beauty of using sport to bridge social divides. “Despite the language barrier the children can work well together on a basketball court as basketball is an international language,” says PPI-CY Board Member, Takis Lyras, a pioneer in Cypriot basketball. “At first contact there are some preconceptions but over time as they get to know each other these are eradicated.” Takis has been with PeacePlayers in Cyprus since its beginnings in 2006. He has been to many tournaments like the one on Saturday, but they continue to move him as a symbol for hope despite trying times.
The Peace Day Tournament All Stars
After several hours playing in the sun, the kids took a well-deserved rest. Everyone was given fresh Haloumi sandwiches, as the kids gathered to watch some very special entertainment, the Peace Day Tournament All Star Game. The All Star Game brought some of the best Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot players from the last 20 years together onto one court for the first time ever. The kids laughed and clapped as one player jogged up the court and made a behind the back pass to a teammate for an open lay-up.
But for some it was more than simple entertainment. “We are witnessing a historic event for Cypriot basketball,” said PeacePlayers-Cyprus Board Member Orhun Mevlit, as he sat on the sidelines with pride. He explained that it would be as if Magic Johnson and Larry Bird played their entire careers without ever facing each other due to a war that prevented them from being on the same court. Now, although no longer in their primes, these Cypriots were finally able to put ethnic tensions aside and play for peace.
Marina hands out trophies to the Girls Championship Team.
Once the All Star Game wrapped up, the children’s championship games commenced. Under the bright lights, and with a group of kids watching, teams competed for the right to be called Peace Day Tournament Champions.
Once all the games had concluded, everyone gathered for an awards ceremony. But before the championship trophies were handed out, four awards were given to the kids that showed the most Fair Play, a value taught in all PPI-CY teams. After all the trophies were handed out, all the kids gathered for a final group shot. As the sun finally dipped below the horizon, kids waved goodbye, walked back to their buses, and headed home after a long day of fun and basketball.
To see all 190 photos from the event, and follow the most up to date PPI-CY news, please join the PeacePlayers International – Cyprus Facebook Group.