By Kyriacos Kyriacou – Nicosia
A proposed bill to tackle football violence in Cyprus may not be ready for a plenum vote by July 10, the last session before summer recess, due to strong disagreements from football clubs, organized fans and political parties.
House legal affairs committee chairman Soteris Sampson said deputies have had to take a step back following the objections, although Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou assured otherwise the public only 24 hours previously.
The final decision on whether the bill will be put to a plenum vote before summer recess will be made by the committee tomorrow. The government aims in putting in effect the bill before the coming football season in September, hoping to reduce violence incidences before, during and after football matches. Dozens such incidences were recorded during the last football season.
“For the bill to be put to a plenum vote we need the widest possible consensus in the House, so as to be successful,” said Sampson, adding that all options were now on the table.
Fan card and policing
The main points of disagreement are the fan card and a provision detailing how football clubs would be invoiced for policing. The card, which aims at lifting anonymity by forcing fans to register in order to buy tickets for sporting events, is a measure long debated but never implemented due to reactions.
During the bill discussion, organised fans opposed the fan card, claiming that it will be used by the police to keep tabs on fans. At the same time, faced with falling ticket prices and the Cyprus crisis, football clubs strongly objected the provision included in the bill, pointing out that they would also have to pay for stewards.
Matches that never finish
Football violence is a phenomena often witnessed and recorded in Cyprus, while efforts to eliminate the phenomenon always seem to fail. The most recent violence incident was the last game of the season and title-decider between Ael and Apoel, that caused an island-wide outcry. Apoel substitute defender Kaka was sent to hospital with a head injury after he was struck by a firecracker, prompting the referee Demetris Masias to abandon the game a few minutes into the second half. The game was played again a few days later with empty seats, with Apoel winning the title. The season was also marked with many injuries after street clashes between hooligans and police forces, which lead to dozens arrested and brought to justice.
“We will do it like Thatcher”
President Nicos Anastasiades has recently stated that violence at sporting events was one of the main obstacles to the mass reach of sports and needs to be addressed. He even referenced former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose drastic action is considered the hallmark of efforts to eliminate hooliganism from football grounds.
“It is time to act like England in the Thatcher years,” he said. “We must all come to respect and protect those who work and sacrifice their time to create something in the sports world, only to see their efforts be ruined by the brainless [hooligans].” The government’s focus, Anastasiades noted, was promoting sport and exercise, and the sporting spirit in general.