Cyprus Mail

MPs start to backtrack on hooligan bill

Football clubs are balking at the idea of paying the police to patrol matches

By Constantinos Psillides

STRONG disagreement from football clubs and organised fans are derailing the proposed bill to tackle football hooliganism, which may not now be ready for a plenum vote by July 10, the last session before summer recess.

Despite the fact that Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou assured the public only 24 hours previously that the bill was well on its way, House legal affairs committee chairman Soteris Sampson said deputies have had to take a step back following the objections.

The final decision on whether the bill will be put to a plenum vote will be made by committee members tomorrow.

The state’s goal was to have the bill take effect before the coming football season, which begins on September 23.

“For the bill to be put to a plenum vote we need the widest possible consensus in the House, so as to be successful,” said Sampson, adding that all options were now on the table.

The main points of disagreement are the fan card and a provision detailing how football clubs would be invoiced for policing.

Organised fans vehemently oppose the fan card, claiming that it will be used by the police to keep tabs on fans. AKEL’s youth branch EDON –who were also invited to take part in the discussion in the House, expressed similar concerns.

The card, which aims at lifting anonymity by forcing fans to register in order to buy tickets for sporting events, is a measure long debated but never implemented due to reactions by fans.

Nicolaou put the fan card at the top of his priorities, warning that it would be implemented in spite of their objections.

“The fan card is a given,” Nicolaou had said, following a meeting at the Cyprus Football Association (CFA) headquarters last week.

To that effect, CFA head Kostakis Koutsokoumnis volunteered on Tuesday to take on the responsibility of setting up the registry for the fan card.

Sampson explained that the legal affairs committee was currently working on amending the bill so as to ensure that the registry isn’t abused by the police.

Football clubs on the other hand base their objections on the added cost for policing and paying stewards.

According to Koutsokoumnis, clubs will have to pay €20 per hour per police officer to effectively police matches. Audito-general Odysseas Michaelides said in a report released earlier this year that clubs should shoulder at least half of the cost of policing matches (around €400,000 out of an annual cost of almost a million), proposing a €1 increase on ticket prices.

Faced with falling ticket prices and a global crisis, football clubs strongly objected the provision included in the bill, pointing out that they would also have to pay for stewards. Koutsokoumnis had already relayed the clubs’ objection on Tuesday, arguing that ticket sales were down €5m in 2014.

AKEL MP Aristos Damianou told the press that football clubs should not be asked to pay the police to do their job, “which is keeping the order and preserve public safety.”

“It’s not right to introduce a bill further burden the clubs, when both them and society in general are faced with dire financial circumstances,” said Damianou, adding that his party would ask for a further discussion regarding police invoicing and the fan card.

Damianou also addressed Nicolaou, asking him to drop the “take it or leave it” tactic.

The bill also faces other problems, since Koutsokoumnis warned on Tuesday that a provision providing for penalties for fans and clubs for violent behaviour were against FIFA and UEFA regulations, since the CFA was the only competent authority to hand down sentences.

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