This week’s blog is written by Coach Michalis Seraphim of PPI – Cyprus’ Kiti boys and girls teams. Michalis, along with PPI coaches Bahar Mevlit, Thanasis Souflias and Sevki Pirlanta, recently traveled to Norway with a PeacePlayers bi-communal boys basketball team to compete for the prestigious Hansa Cup. PeacePlayers would like to thank the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Jotun Group and Nordic Choice Hotels, who all contributed to having Cyprus’ first integrated basketball team compete in international competition.
May 23rd was the day we had all been waiting for and it had finally arrived. Just 7 weeks after forming Cyprus’ first ever bi-communal boys’ basketball team, our group of 12 teenage boys and 4 coaches headed to the airport to begin our journey in Norway. After a 5-hour flight from Paphos, we arrived in Oslo where we met with representatives from the Jotun Group – one of our sponsors for the trip – were given new jackets, and ferried to the city of Nesodden to meet our host families who were members of the Nesodden Basketball Team. The warmth that we felt from the Nesodden team immediately lifted off any reluctance from our boys, demonstrating how sports can overcome social barriers like language, nationality and culture (in our case electronic video consoles helped too!).
In Nesodden we visited a local high school where our boys gave a presentation to 2 different classes on the history of Cyprus, PeacePlayers and how we are using basketball to bridge divides in conflict areas. Most exciting event, however, was watching and participating in a show with The Harlem Globetrotters (more stories about that in next week’s blog).
We also had the chance to spend two days in Oslo where we visited the Holmenkollen Ski Jump and Museum, the Nobel Peace Center, the Red Cross Central Office, the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and State Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Gry Larsen. These experiences increased our understanding of Norway’s firm dedication and legacy in promoting peace worldwide. Regarding Cyprus, it is my personal opinion that PRIO’s Cyprus Center should get more recognition as it has published a variety of scientific research on the Cyprus conflict.
We arrived in Bergen early Saturday, April 27th with only a few hours of sleep. The sense that the tournament was bigger than we had thought was causing a little stress for everybody. The Hansa Cup is the most prestigious tournament in Norway, attracting the majority of Norwegian clubs to compete. We didn’t fully realize the magnitude of the tournament until we spoke with other coaches and players. Just being there was a milestone for our organization – for the first time a competitive team, comprised of both Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, was going to compete in an official international tournament.
These factors brought a tremendous amount of passion to our team. We won our first game handily. The fear of the unknown made our boys struggle for every ball, fight for every possession, they just spilled their guts out! After our first game the coaches could see in our team’s eyes that any social barriers that may have remained had disappeared. They were ONE team, they were boys who love the game, they were CYPRIOTS, and although our opponents in the second game were stronger, we won it too.
That night the boys slept well and awoke Sunday ready to play. Even though we had only really had a few practices together, there was the feeling that we had been together as a team for many months, partially due to our time spent together at the LDP camp in Kantara, and the 3 days in Nesodden. With this spirit inside of us we proceeded to the knock-out stage of the tournament, advancing all the way to the finals. After a hard fought match, we finished second and were awarded the silver medal. But this was much more than winning or losing: this was a group that started as a mixed group of boys from different communities and finished up as one team.
This was an experience that gave positive emotions to everybody. I hope PeacePlayers participates again, and I hope to see Nesodden young players at our summer camps in Cyprus. Finally, I hope that other players, boys and girls, and other coaches, have the opportunity for such an experience because I believe that this journey was the essence of what PeacePlayers is all about.
P.S. What I described above would not be possible if we coaches did not lead by example. For most of us, it was the first time that we were in a coaching staff of 4, not to mention leading a mixed group, and I believe that each of us played a specific role that was crucial to our success.
P.P.S. Special credit needs to be given to my friend and fellow coach, Sevki Pirlanta, for being PPI’s photographer and capturing so many wonderful memories we will cherish forever. To see all the pictures from our journey, like our Facebook Page!