Cyprus Political Mission Demonstrates the Power of Sport as a Peacebuilding Tool
The Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus is working to help build and nurture connections and interactions across the island, bringing together Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.
The island of Cyprus, which lies in the Mediterranean Sea to the east of Greece and south of Türkiye, is divided. Most Greek Cypriots live in the southern part of the island, with the majority of Turkish Cypriots in the north. In between them is the UN-controlled buffer zone, extending approximately 180 kilometres across the island. There are two UN missions on the island. The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) has been stationed there since 1964. The Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus (OSASG), meanwhile, assists the sides in the search for a mutually acceptable settlement agreement and facilitates ongoing discussions on a range of trust-building initiatives.
OSASG-Cyprus has designed and implemented multiple confidence-building initiatives to bring Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots together and to reduce tensions. For example, a key effort involves initiating and promoting cooperation on environmental issues across the island and sharing ideas aiming at common environmental goals. Such measures can be crucial steps in conflict resolution processes. In recent months, the mission has also championed sport as a peacebuilding tool that can bring communities together, especially young people.
In September 2022, the mission convened five experts and sport practitioners to discuss the unique ability of sport to act as a catalyst for peacebuilding efforts at the third Cyprus Forum, an annual convention for socially responsible and sustainable policymaking.
“Sport has the unique ability to bring people together…it helps connect individual and communities in a special way,” said Arnaud Amouroux, Political Affairs Officer at OSASG-Cyprus. “It’s universal, it speaks to all in a language that they can understand. It has the power to transcend differences but also to break down barriers. It’s also a valuable opportunity for children and young adults to interact and learn from one another, dispel false ideas, and forge relationships.” While acknowledging that sport does not represent a silver bullet, he noted its use as part of a broader tool kit of actions, policies and initiatives to build an atmosphere conducive to peacebuilding work.
The panelists at the Cyprus Forum included Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots: Sophia Papamichalopoulos, founder of Winds of Change Cyprus; Nesrin Yuceulas, former Anagennisi Deryneia FC volleyball player; Okan Dağli, author of the book Together in Football; Stephanie Nicolas, Programme Coordinator, Peace Players Cyprus; as well as Aziyadé Poltier-Mutal, a senior official representing the United Nations Office in Geneva. The five shared their experiences on the role of sport as a vehicle for fostering mutual understanding and respect on the island, and spoke about past, current, and planned activities for promoting reconciliation through sport-based approaches at the grassroot level. The discussion also addressed the specific enabling role of sport towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In the weeks that followed the discussion, Cypriots from different parts of the island participated in intercommunal games of basketball and tennis.
Addressing the Forum as a keynote speaker, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Deputy Special Adviser Colin Stewart stressed the importance of building new ties and strengthening existing ones to restore trust and reinvigorate the prospect of a settlement in Cyprus: “Each of these initiatives will have positive impact on the lives of Cypriots on both sides of the island,” he said. “But more importantly still, each initiative will bring a little bit of positive experience, create a small amount of good will, and so, brick by brick, lay the path towards a mutually-agreeable settlement of the Cyprus problem.”