It is difficult not to link the government’s decision to pay for the building of a new stadium in Limassol with next year’s presidential elections. The timing of the announcement, less than 11 months before the election, would suggest it is part of President Anastasiades’ re-election strategy. A new stadium would be welcomed by the town’s three clubs – Apollon, Aris, Ael – that would be able to use it without having to spend a cent either for its construction or for the leasing of the land on which it would be built.
Tsirion stadium, which has been serving the three clubs, is more than 40 years old and, reportedly, has structural problems, not to mention that it is situated in a residential area with home-owners suffering whenever football hooligans go on the rampage. When it was built in 1975 the stadium was surrounded by fields and scrubland but as the town expanded northwards the area became residential. The argument that a new football ground is needed has merits considering Limassol is the only town served by such an old stadium.
New stadiums have been built in all other towns in the last 20 years while some clubs have their own ground. The stadiums shared by clubs have all been financed by the taxpayer and the government is planning to do the same for Limassol even though it would have to secure the approval of the EU as financing would be a subsidy. The state has ‘leased’ (donated would be a more correct term as they would pay nothing) the land to the three clubs and would repay the bank loan for the construction, estimated at €28m. Funnily enough, the taxpayer would probably have to pay the €1.2m fees for the building permit issued in September because the clubs will never do so.
The obvious question is why should the clubs have ownership of the stadium when they would be paying absolutely nothing for it? Logically, ownership should stay with the state or perhaps the municipality in which the stadium would be built so that the clubs pay fees for its use. The management could be given to a private company that could find ways to generate income from other sources. Why should the clubs have exclusive use and exploitation rights of a stadium they would have paid absolutely nothing for? Nicosia’s clubs pay for every match they play at GSP stadium, or at least they are supposed to; one is said to owe close to €2m in unpaid fees, but is still allowed to play its matches there.
This is indicative of the preferential treatment football clubs have always enjoyed with the authorities never taking measures against them; they owe huge amounts of money to inland revenue and the social insurance fund but are not pursued by the law. Under the circumstances, the government’s plan to build and donate a stadium to the three clubs of Limassol would only encourage football clubs to carry on behaving in this financially reckless manner.