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All sides determined to clamp down on football hooliganism

Despite strict searches by police, firecrackers seem to have gotten through

By Angelos Anastasiou

IN LIGHT of Saturday’s events at Limassol’s Tsireion stadium during the title-decider between AEL and APOEL that caused an island-wide outcry, President Nicos Anastasiades said that his government is determined to clamp down on hooliganism.

An APOEL substitute was sent to hospital with a head injury after he was struck by a firecracker, prompting referee Demetris Masias to abandon the game a few minutes into the second half.

“After Saturday’s incidents, our imminent proposals become more urgent and relevant, so that the next season we can incorporate the new arrangements,” Anastasiades said.

The president referenced a ‘Thatcher-type’ approach to combating football violence, implying that the policies followed by the Iron Lady in the 1980s may be worth studying and adapting to the Cypriot reality.

Predictably, yesterday’s scheduled meeting at the Presidential Palace to discuss the construction of a new stadium in Limassol touched on this issue as well.

Speaking after the meeting, the football federation’s president Kostas Koutsokoumnis said that the President “has very strong opinions on the future course of football, which we will discuss with him and the Justice Minister.”

“We have hit rock bottom,” Koutsokoumnis said. “The federation’s board will convene on Tuesday to make decisions that will amend disciplinary regulations so that any club that allows such behaviour is punished severely.”

Deputy government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos, who also attended the meeting, said the government’s resolve to address the issue will translate to proposals and bills that will be submitted for discussion in the next few days.

Meanwhile, justice minister Ionas Nicolaou has once again drawn political fire for the police’s failure to ensure the violence-free conducting of a football game for which 400 policemen were engaged. But the police were not let off the hook for the fact that, despite announcing body searches on fans entering the stadium, numerous flares and firecrackers got through and showed up in the stands during the game.

“The justice minister and the police have some explaining to do and must assume their responsibilities,” said Yiorgos Loukaides on behalf of the opposition party AKEL.

Police spokesman Andreas Angelides said that arrests may be made in connection with Saturday’s events. According to CyBC radio, the police were in contact with AEL’s management in an effort to locate the perpetrator and bring him to justice. Police have also stated that the firecracker was an improvised egg-shaped device, with a fuse attached to a duct-taped ball of gunpowder.

“We have some information which we are evaluating,” he said.

In response to the charge that a 400-strong force could not ensure the safe supervision of a football game, Angelides defended the police by arguing that it achieved the safe arrival and departure of every fan, but could only perform so many body searches in one hour.

“Searches were performed to the extent possible,” he said, adding that “whether searches could be performed differently, that is a different issue.”

But a two-minute video depicting tens of AEL fans entering the stadium, with only sporadic and nominal searches by the police, has surfaced on Youtube, posted by user AELTVSports.

Nonetheless, home team AEL is at risk of losing the game – and the title – if the referee’s game report lays the blame on them and APOEL is awarded the three points in court on Thursday. In a bid to distance itself from the incident, AEL was quick to release a photograph depicting its prime suspect for throwing the firecracker – a young male whose face is covered by a skeleton mask – and put out a €5,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

From the outset, AEL’s boss Andreas Sophocleous maintained that the person who threw the firecracker was not an AEL fan and said he “could not rule out provocation,” implying the person was not trying to intimidate opponents but benefit them by harming AEL.

Following yesterday’s meeting at the Palace, Sophocleous repeated his assertion.

“We consider this person to have nothing to do with AEL,” he said. “No AEL fan would do such a thing at that time. This person was fiercely trying to stop the game.”

Despite initial reports that the firecracker in question was fired using a pistol, this was denied by Limassol traffic chief Michalis Katsounotos, who said two similar firecrackers were found in the stadium, which had apparently failed to detonate after being lit and thrown at the pitch.

“The size of these firecrackers allows anyone to carry them even in one’s private areas,” Katsounotos replied when asked how it could have been brought into the stadium. “Also, its size and weight allows one to throw it to the spot where it exploded.”

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