Cyprus politics and soccer clash amid title fever

NICOSIA (AFP) – A thrilling three-way race for the Cyprus soccer championship, a parliamentary election campaign and a flurry of conspiracy theories – is all an explosive mixture set to ignite this weekend. Today, Limassol’s Apollon FC and bitter Nicosia rivals Omonia and APOEL slug it out for top spot in the country’s premier league, with only two points separating the three teams. The smart money is on leaders Apollon – who are unbeaten this season – winning the title for the first time since 1994, but APOEL and Omonia both have easy games against already relegated opposition. However, as ever on an island divided since a 1974 invasion by Turkey, politics are not far away. Rumors of match fixing, cries of biased refereeing and political affiliation are nothing unusual in Cyprus, whose small size masks a bewilderingly complex political scene marked out by an array of acronyms. Most teams enjoy some form of political association. Apollon and APOEL are favored by supporters of the right, while Omonia, arguably the island’s biggest club, is a firm friend of the left and dubbed the «peoples’ team.» Apollon must win against Anorthosis of Famagusta, another team of the right, to be sure of the title, but there is speculation that political skullduggery behind the scenes is trying to pull some strings for an APOEL title. Right-wing opposition party DISY has alleged the rumors are being stirred by the communist party AKEL, which sees Omonia as its team, branding it as a ploy to put DISY in a bad light leading up to polling day on May 21. In response, AKEL has denied any involvement in the rigging slur and criticized DISY for fermenting «nationalist sentiment» among young soccer fans. Although nobody has ever proved match fixing in Cyprus, many supporters prefer to indulge in conspiracy theories that point to certain results not happening by chance. With the rumor mill working overtime, DISY issued a statement earlier this week in a bid to dampen the whispering campaign after a number of text messages circulated alleging the title winner was being fixed. «We strongly condemn the actions of certain circles, who have petty party interests as their motive, for scheming to send messages that implicate party (DISY) officials in fixing soccer results,» said a DISY statement on Tuesday. The opposition party said it was never involved in soccer games, and definitely not in the way that some have suggested.