By Jean Christou
A FOOTBALL tournament in which a team from the Nicosia Central Prisons will play veterans of Nicosia teams Omonia and APOEL, and those of AEL and Apollon in Limassol kicked off yesterday on the prison grounds.
Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou and Acting Prison Director Eleni Vatiliotou launched the tournament, titled ‘Building Bridges’, which will run until July 10 with all matches played at the prison.
The first game was held yesterday between Omonia and the Prison Team. The next match will be on April 9 with the Omonia vets facing off with their APOEL counterparts. In total ten matches will be played.
Addressing the launch, Nicolaou said the move was part of the government’s policy to modernise the prison system.
The prisons have received bad publicity of late after a spate of suicides and attempted suicides that have led the government to promise a change of tack.
“The modernisation of our prison system is a key priority so that it can work as a mechanism for reintegrating prisoners into society,” Nicolaou said.
He said the living conditions of the prisoners had also been improved. This included an extension of the supply of hot water – a long-standing complaint – electricity on a 24/7 basis, use of video games, open visiting hours for all prisoners, an increase the number of phone calls, more entertainment with football , badminton, volleyball , and theatre .
It was within this context the football tournament was organised, he said, following an initiative by prison authorities who contacted the major clubs to see what could be arranged. Nicolaou thanked the clubs for responding positively. The games will be refereed by members of the Referees Association.
Games will run in two 30-minute segments with a ten-minute ‘half time’ break. Teams comprise 18 members each with 11 players on the field. All prisoners will have to go through strict security before entering the pitch, and phones, bags, food and drink coming from either side is prohibited.