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Why doesn’t Cyprus dare to dream?

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Cyprus athletes are returning from Tokyo empty-handed, where the team, mostly, did not secure a place in any finals, let alone a medal.

However, though a podium finish is desirable, this seems to be the best that Cyprus can do.

Cyprus cannot put together a large team with competitive athletes due to a lack of generous funds, yet there is still a social obstacle that needs to be overcome to develop a grander sporting culture.

In recent years, a small but growing number of quality athletes have represented the flag in many events, doing better where the overall participation is smaller.

The qualifying threshold is easier to secure in the Commonwealth Games, more so in the Mediterranean Games and best of all in the Small State Games, reaping most medals.

The problem is that individual sports in Cyprus are perceived as being elitist.

In contrast, football is the single most popular game, mainly because anyone with a ball and a pair of what appear to be goal posts can play the game anywhere.

Any other sport becomes fashionable only when someone has an international breakthrough, and then it withers.

Cyprus has experimented with various disciplines, such as boxing, wrestling, and gymnastics, but national stars have only shown brilliance due to their efforts or family sacrifices.

Facilities are non-existent, and there is a clear lack in sports strategy, not realising that competitive achievements will most benefit the ‘Cyprus’ brand, indirectly boosting the island’s image and even tourism.

Youngsters picked up a ball and racket only after Marcos Baghdatis shone on the international tennis arena.

Skeet and trap shooting seems somewhat popular because of its ties to hunting in Cyprus, the second most popular pastime.

Track and field gained fame when the sport was actively promoted at all levels in schools, and in the 1970s, Cyprus looked in awe to legends like Stavros Tziortzis, who finished sixth in the 400m hurdles in Munich in 1972.

This is only one place better than Milan Trajkovic’s seventh finish in the 110m hurdles and Kyriacos Ioannou in the high jump, both in Rio.

Although Cyprus has sent a team to every Olympic Games since 1980, the medals’ tally has been a single silver in laser sailing that Pavlos Kontides brought home from London in 2012.

Ironically, Cyprus has a flourishing maritime industry, accounting for no less than 7% of gross economic output pre-Covid years.

Yet, all the Cyprus flag has shown are a handful of sailing athletes, including third-generation Andreas Kariolou.

Cyprus has done better in the Paralympics, winning six medals in total, four by golden swimmer Karolina Pelendritou and two more from track and field athlete Antonis Aresti.

Eleven athletes qualified for Tokyo, including shooter Andri Eleftheriou and cyclist Andri Christoforou, who was unfortunate to crash out of one race after being hit by another team’s driver, while preparing for her final race, she dropped out because of Covid and quarantine.

And possibly because of the short winter season, Cyprus has not entered a winter Olympics team since Sochi in 2014, even though Cypriot athletes excel overseas during their university years.

Saying Cyprus cannot afford to develop a competitive sporting culture is a silly excuse to keep money secured for football. Any crumbs leftover go to basketball and a little bit to swimming.

With a population of 33,600, San Marino is now the smallest nation to have won Olympic medals, with silver and two bronze in shooting and wrestling in Tokyo. Why can’t Cyprus?