हिन्दीಕನ್ನಡമലയാളംதமிழ்తెలుగు

Greek cricketers batting it out for recognition

Published: Tuesday, August 9, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
 
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Corfu (Greece):Sipping their cold drinks in the shade of an esplanade on a sweltering afternoon, coffee-shop patrons barely notice a group of blue-clad youngsters stepping out onto this Greek island town's main square.

At a time of day when most Greeks would rather grab a siesta, this squad of teenagers is training to represent their country in a sport few Greeks beyond Corfu's shores have heard of cricket.

A legacy of Britain's control over the Ionian Sea islands from 1814 to 1864, cricket has survived on Corfu as a local tradition but has also gone on to win Greece a measure of success at European level as well.

In February, the Greek men's squad won the European indoor championship in Denmark against competition that nominally outranks them in European classification status.

They won the same trophy in 2002, two years after the Greek youth squad had carried off their own division tournament in Gibraltar.

But the news barely made a blip on the Greek media, reflecting a national mentality that sidelines most sports beyond football, basketball and athletics.

"Media coverage has been almost zero," said Greek cricket federation administrator Georgia Sagiadinou. "State channel Net aired something about us in 2002, but that's because we knew someone there."

The federation, which is also based on Corfu along with 11 of the country's 14 official cricket clubs, has a similar problem of exposure with the Greek sports authorities. Though entitled to annual state backing, the money it receives barely covers its operational expenses, cricket officials said.

The funding shortage undermines efforts to maintain youth interest in the sport across the island.

But a way out of this deadlock could lie in a handful of open spaces around Athens where hundreds of Pakistanis, part of a 30,000-strong community living in Greece, meet to play cricket every weekend.

"There's no better climate for cricket in the world," said 40-year-old Majid Ali Chughtai from Lahore. Greece has "a long summer, without too much heat and humidity," he says.

Seeking to tap this expertise from a nation that is a world powerhouse in the sport, Greece's fledgling cricketers are now sending feelers to the Athens-based Pakistani community.

Greek cricket federation president Iosif Nikitas is scheduled to meet Pakistan ambassador Rashed Saleem Khan for talks on Corfu next week.

"We intend to come into contact with all countries that play cricket, the communities and embassies," said Sagiadinou. "It could have happened years ago...but the federation was only formed in 1996."

A small community of Pakistanis is already involved with cricket on Corfu, playing on the island's 11 registered clubs and helping to instruct youngsters in the sport.

"Cricket has brought us into contact with these people, Pakistanis, Indians, Britons," said national team coach Costas Vassilas. "There are thousands of Pakistanis in Greece, a great community that numbers 20 cricket teams."

"If they could find employment on Corfu, it would be beneficial both for cricket and for themselves," he says.

Chughtai, who currently works in Athens as a house-painter, coached the Greek youth team to victory in the second division championship in 2000.

Fellow Pakistani Mohammad Aslam, a 34-year-old electrician from Karachi, coaches the teenagers and also plays on the Greek men's team.

Aslam says he first came to Corfu for an exhibition game in 1995, and never left.

"Here I have friends. That's why I'm here," he told AFP. "Otherwise I would have gone to the Netherlands. I signed a contract to play there, but I came back here."

Chughtai says that if Greek cricket received more resources and attention, it would flourish.

"A couple of players on the 2000 squad were world-class," says Chughtai. "None of them are playing now, a team that took five years to build was destroyed."

"Cricket in Greece has prospects, but more money is needed," says Aslam. "The children don't get to train very much. All they want to do is play a bit, nothing more."

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