By Constantinos Psillides
A bill aimed at tackling football-related violence was introduced at the House on Thursday, with Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou making clear he wanted it voted on as it stood.
“Today we are taking the fist step in our journey to change the unacceptable state our football is currently in. This journey won’t be easy or short but its one we have to see through to the end,” said Nicolaou during a press conference.
The most controversial element introduced in the bill is the so called “fan card”. In an attempt to thwart anonymity, the state will require football clubs to only sell tickets to fans who have registered their personal information with the club. The state has been trying to introduce the “fan card” for quite some time but football clubs have always been reluctant, being pressured by their respective fan clubs who strongly oppose lifting anonymity.
Police access to personal data of fans will be upon request since football clubs are the ones keeping records.
“I know that the bill will get some of the fans and teams upset. We are willing to discuss some improvements on the bill but we will not render it ineffective because some fans reacted. Our only option is to work together and take decisive action without hesitation,” said Nicolaou.
Seats in the stadiums from now on will also have to be numbered so police will know exactly who sits where during the match.
The bill also calls for increased jail sentences as well as imposing bans on fans, depending on previous incidents the fan was involved in.
It also calls for a ban on alcoholic drinks inside stadium grounds, upgrading surveillance equipment, and will also make throwing objects on the pitch a criminal offence. Shouting racial or insult slurs by fans will also be made a criminal offence, under the proposed legislation.
Making one’s face unrecognisable either by scarf, helmet or any other clothing will also be forbidden, not only within the stadium but around it as well.
During the press conference, the justice minister talked about upgraded surveilliance equipment that was put to the test during the cup final between APOEL and Ermis. Nicolaou said the new cameras could detect the lighting of flares in the stands and follow the perpetrators movements.
Nicolaou made clear that he was open to discussion with all political parties on ways to improve the bill but will not accept taking out elements that would reduce its effectiveness.
“We are ready to devote as much time as needed into discussing the provisions of the bill and ways to improve it. What we won’t accept is turning this bill into an a la carte menu where everyone can take provisions off and add restrictions,” he said.
The justice ministry will push for the bill to be approved within the next two months so that it can be implemented in time for next season.
The bill was deemed essential after the recent clashes between AEL and APOEL which resulted in the interruption of the May 17 championship final when a flare was thrown by an AEL fan, hitting and injuring one of the APOEL players who had to be hospitalised.