By George Psyllides
FOLLOWING clashes between fans on Tuesday that saw one man lose an eye and others injured, police on Wednesday conceded “weaknesses and omissions” in an operation to guard a high-risk football match in Nicosia, but said clubs and others were also to blame for the violence.
The chief of police has ordered an investigation into the circumstances that led fanatics to clash on the motorway before the game between Nicosia side APOEL and Limassol’s AEL at the GSP stadium in the capital.
A 27-year-old APOEL fan lost his eye after being hit by a rock.
The man, who didn’t take part in the clashes but was on his way to watch the game with his father, was reportedly sitting in his car when he was hit.
Around a dozen more people were injured including six police officers.
Police said they arrested nine suspects. A large number of firecrackers were also seized before the game.
“In no way is police claiming infallibility,” a police statement said. “Reviewing the facts to date and the planning of the operation, it is established that some weaknesses and omissions possibly existed.”
However, the statement said, from the first moment there was an effort to transfer all the blame on the police when other actors had failed to do their part.
Police said the clubs and other bodies did not adhere with what was agreed before the game, despite the assurances they had given.
The statement said club reps had agreed that organised supporters would not travel en masse without police escort but a section of AEL supporters gathered at the exit near Pera Horio outside Nicosia and headed to the GSP.
Police said AEL fans refused to be escorted by police, citing possible reactions, and also used a bus to travel to Nicosia despite agreeing not to.
APOEL supporters failed to follow the agreed routes to the stadium, police said, resulting in them meeting with AEL fans on the roundabout near the Mall of Cyprus.
The two clubs also rejected a police suggestion for AEL fans to get the southern stand, which faces Limassol and provides easier access to the stadium, to make it easier for the force to police the game.
“It is high time for all of us to engage in self-criticism and have the will to take measures,” the police said.
Sports authorities should intervene immediately, the statement said, and “supporters must isolate those individuals who create trouble inside and outside stadiums.”
Both teams blamed the police for not handling the situation properly and for not following the plan that was agreed upon by all sides, which said that fans from both teams shouldn’t meet on their way to the stadium.
Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou, who has pledged to effectively deal with violence at football matches even back when he was an MP, did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Main opposition AKEL suggested that for the umpteenth time, Nicolaou could not rise up to the occasion.