IT CAME as no surprise that football clubs and supporters groups took a stand against the justice ministry’s bill for tackling football hooliganism. And it was certainly no surprise that many deputies chose to pander to them by expressing objections to the bill – football supporters represent a very big number of votes.
Clubs are against the bill because it would make them take responsibility for what is happening inside and outside football grounds, something they have been obdurately refusing to do. In fact, they have been indirectly encouraging hooliganism by often excusing violent fan behaviour – blaming it on allegedly biased refereeing or poor policing – and very rarely, if ever, condemning it unequivocally.
The clubs, like the supporters’ groups, are, to a large extent, the cause of the problem which is why it was rather foolish for the House legal affairs committee to invite their representatives to its meeting. But even if that was unavoidable, their views need not have been taken on board. Of course the clubs would have objected to being forced by the new law to pay for the policing of matches. They are all cash-strapped, loss-making entities with big debts that have no spare money to pay for big policing operations or for match stewards that are another provision of the law.
Then again, avoiding the big policing bills would be a strong incentive for the clubs to join the fight against hooliganism. They would have a real financial incentive to eliminate crowd trouble and violence as what they paid in policing bills would be determined by how successful they had been in bringing their fans into line. This might even encourage them to take tough line on hooligan behaviour publicly instead of equivocating and making excuses for the thugs. And if the hooligan behaviour stopped, the clubs could be exempted from paying for a small police presence.
The fan ID card is also very good idea as it would allow the police to keep a check on hooligans. For instance, police could take away the card of a hooligan, thus barring him from entry into a match; he would not be able to buy a ticket or enter a ground if convicted. Claims that the ID card would allow police to keep tabs on fans are nonsensical. Why would they keep tabs on law-abiding citizens that have never caused any trouble at a match? They may keep tabs on hooligans and known trouble-makers, but that is the point of the new law. Do we have to protect the right of hooligans and troublemakers to avoid punishment?
Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou was criticised by deputies on Wednesday for being unwilling to water down the provisions of the bill, as clubs had been demanding, and of adopting a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ attitude. He should be congratulated for his firm stand, because a law that would have the approval of the clubs and supporters’ groups is guaranteed to be totally ineffective.