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Cyprus must invest in sporting redemption

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A huge sporting spectacular – or as much as COVID will allow – comes to a close with heart-warming Olympic stories of individual triumph and endurance over adversity.

There are many human-interest stories to inspire and appreciate these athletes’ dedication to compete at the highest level.

The highs and lows of sporting excellence are strewn across a Tokyo Olympics that almost didn’t happen a year late because of the pandemic.

The crowds may have been absent, but there was drama, heartache, pain, tears, and elation everywhere you looked.

Mental health issues among athletes expected to perform at the highest level came quickly into focus, with the world’s best-known gymnast Simone Biles opting out of most events she was expected to win gold.

She returned from overcoming stress to compete in the beam for a bronze, but the viewing public saw the pressure athletes are under to perform.

Then there was the cloak and dagger mystery of Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya.

She said members of the Belarus national team in Tokyo took her to the airport to send her home against her will after publicly criticising her coaches.

Tsimanouskaya didn’t board the flight for fear for her life if she returned home and is now in Poland.

There was a surprise winner in the men’s 100 metres final – the gold ribbon event of any Olympic games.

Italy’s Lamont Marcell Jacobs claimed a shock gold in the Olympic 100m final.

Jacobs, who only switched from the long jump in 2018, streaked clear to win in 9.80 seconds, 0.04 clear of American Fred Kerley.

Few would have picked Jacobs, born in Texas to an American father but moved to his mother’s Italian homeland before his first birthday.

Jacobs only broke the 10-second barrier for the first time in May.

Tokyo2020 is full of such inspirational stories from boxing to skateboarding or basketball to cycling.

There were the lows of favourites missing out and the highs of countries earning a place on the medal podium for the first time.

And those with a passing interest in the Games would have noticed that Cyprus rather faded away without making a splash.

Nothing was expected of the Cyprus team – and maybe that is part of the problem.

Should Cyprus be happy to compete, as is the Olympic spirit to do so?

Is one silver medal from competing in the Olympic Games a good enough return?

Does it reflect the talent and sporting ability that Cyprus possess?

Certainly, the individuals who represented the country did their best in world-class fields, which must be respected.

President Anastasiades congratulated sailor Pavlos Kontides – our only Olympic medallist – for coming fourth when gold was within his grasp.

And fourth in the Laser sailing class final is Cyprus’s second-best performance at any Games.

Hunger games

But where is the hunger from us as a society to achieve sporting glory, not simply be happy with coming close or not so close.

Understood, Cyprus is a small nation with a smaller talent pool, but that does not mean we cannot reach the finish line.

How serious is the state in finding, monitoring, recruiting, and investing in sporting prowess?

Cyprus should expand its horizons, invest in different sports, and encourage young men and women to achieve their potential.

Where are the future runners, swimmers, cyclists, martial arts contestants, gymnasts, rowers, skateboarders or surfers?

There are many sports that Cypriots are unfamiliar with, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be good at them.

It takes investment, a vision, and a blueprint to encourage, support and nurture sporting excellence wherever it may be.

When it comes down to it, there is no serious approach to sport in this country, a structured environment to scout exceptional talent and fund it.

If any Cypriot athlete is going to make it, they have to do it on their own, struggle to survive and beat the odds to get noticed.

Whatever we spend on sport is nowhere near enough – and I don’t mean paying the salaries of a bunch of elderly gentlemen to run an association.

The sporting arena could be a place of redemption for Cyprus — better known for winning gold medals in corruption and selling passports to criminals.

There’s enough money to go around when it comes to cheating the system but not to build pride in a nation that strives to be better than its parts.