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Sports tourism lacks winning formula

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A round table discussion hosted by the Cyprus Sports Organisation (KOA) stated the obvious: alternative tourism channels, especially sport, are a rapidly growing sector of the economy, and Cyprus cannot be left behind.

However, what is encouraging is that all stakeholders met in the same room for a lively discussion and brainstorming for the first time.

Prodromos Prodromou, the cabinet minister with a wide portfolio for culture, education, youth and sports, recognised that sports tourism is gaining popularity worldwide, as holidaymakers, especially after the stay-home frustration imposed by coronavirus, seek themed holidays.

He said the administration is committed to supporting any legislation necessary to develop this sector.

In a similar tone, KOA chair Andreas Michaelides said that a five-pillar action plan is already underway.

And he should know.

As a football club and national team coach, Michaelides has seen first-hand the benefits from opening up disused or under-utilised pitches for ‘winter training’, popular with squads mainly from northern Europe, who have basked in the Cyprus ‘winter’ sun, several weeks at a time.

Motorists often come across foreign cyclists on Cyprus’ somewhat maintained asphalt roads, which happens all year round.

Some of us smile or even wave at the colour-jerseyed teams, often in pairs, struggling up a steep hill.

The occasional village idiot will undoubtedly blast his horn, accompanied by a few swear words that tourists often do not understand and wave back to.

Apart from improving our welcoming attitudes and the favourable weather, infrastructure is of primary concern that often determines if a team will choose Cyprus for training or even a sports holiday.

In recent years, the coastal towns have enjoyed a phenomenal face-change, with the capital and some municipalities struggling to catch up.

The occasional cycle lanes appearing in Nicosia and the suburbs in recent months have been available in Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos for quite some years.

These towns have also warmed to the running community for competitive, health and wellness reasons.

This is why the Larnaca and Paphos marathons during the past few weeks were very well received by tourism professionals and the local communities.

Nicosia has some catching up to do in this direction, with the first large-scale event taking place this weekend, after a gap of several years, despite hosting the first professionally organised marathon on the island in 2010, cloned by so many over the years.

Attitudes also need to change, as foreign runners, cyclists, footballers, swimmers, and athletes of so many other disciplines are often the best ambassadors for promoting a destination.

The more we encourage a wide spectrum of sports events, breaking away from the ugliness often attributed to football, the better and more attractive our tourism product will become.

Nowhere else can you walk, run or cycle an elevation in so few minutes, which takes hours to handle in other countries, while the favourable weather conditions have attracted Olympic teams for their pre-Games acclimatisation, albeit in one-off visits.

By encouraging sustainable and innovative service and infrastructure, Cyprus can return to the ‘quality tourism’ map, just as some progressive people, such as the Agriculture Minister, have promoted diving tours.

Promoting rural areas, improving access and changing attitudes should be next on our priorities list.