By Angelos Anastasiou
PRESIDENT Nicos Anastasiades has pledged to address the issue of hooliganism “decisively” and promote exercise and sport among the Cypriot youth as a means of developing “social and mental resistance.”
Speaking at a gala dinner in Limassol celebrating the 60th anniversary since the founding of Apollon sporting club, Anastasiades noted that violence at sporting events was one of the main obstacles to the mass reach of sports and needs to be addressed.
“As a state, we are determined to take immediate action to curtail violence at sporting events,” he said.
Anastasiades 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.
“Among the goals we have set is promoting lifelong participation in sport for all citizens, supporting athletic clubs and athletes, further development of competitive sport, fighting violence and racism from sporting venues,” he said.
He also explained that the government’s approach was that hooligans must be ejected from football pitches and forced to watch games from afar.
“That is the only thing that can regain the trust of families and young people, who need to find a healthy hobby rather than be exposed to incidents such as the ones we have seen recently,” he said. He was referring to the serious clashes among rival fans last Tuesday before a game between title contenders APOEL and AEL, which caused several injuries and a fan to lose one eye.
Meanwhile, Anastasiades also referred to the need of a new football stadium in Limassol, and committed to engaging the right people immediately in order to make it happen.
“Within the next 15 days I will be holding a meeting at the Presidential Palace with all stakeholders and the Finance Ministry, in order to examine the construction of a new stadium in Limassol that will comply with the latest European criteria, so that any risk to the safety of spectators can be eliminated,” he said.
Anastasiades putting the weight of the Presidency behind a new football stadium for the town is hardly surprising – he is a child of Limassol, after all – but his reference comes on the back of weeks-long public debates on crowd safety concerns at the Tsirion stadium, which were only assuaged earlier this week.