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Cyprus

Minister cries foul on fan card

Ionas Nicolaou: As long as fan anonymity is protected, then football violence will continue

By Constantinos Psillides

THE latest derailment in the introduction of the fan card for football spectators yesterday angered Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou, who accused all and sundry of hypocrisy.

The fan card, an identity card aiming at lifting anonymity of sports fans, was voted in August as a part of an anti-hooligan bill proposed by the government. Nicolaou, who strongly lobbied for the bill, had set January 1, 2015, as the deadline for putting the card into effect.

“Everyone condemns football violence but when the time comes to turn words into actions, an unofficial alliance kicks the ball offside,” he said.

Nicolaou was responding to the news that the Cyprus Football Association (CFA) declined the responsibility of implementing the fan card.

The project had previously been earmarked for the Cyprus Sports Organisation (CSO) but it said previously that it lacked the necessary funding.

Parliamentary parties had initially agreed that the CSO would be the competent authority responsible keeping records of fans personal data but it was then handed off to the CFA.

The CFA however backed away yesterday following a heated reaction led by main opposition party AKEL, which protested against a private-sector body having access to fans’ personal data. The move prompted Nicolaou to respond angrily.

“Everybody knew that CSO did not have the means of implementing the fan card by January. As long as fan anonymity is protected, football violence will continue. Some political parties, or individual party members, some media outlets and football teams caved in to the pressure from organised fan clubs… the pressure from that small portion of fans whose violent behaviour they previously condemned,” said Nicolaou.

The football teams had organised fans who were vehemently opposed the fan card, going as far as to boycott matches and march in protest outside the parliament.

Nicolaou wondered what that “unofficial alliance” would do the next time football violence broke out. “Will they shrug off their responsibilities and pin it all on the police?

Football violence cannot be battled without cost, cannot be battled without taking the appropriate measures. The fan card is objected to by organised fans because it takes away the veil of anonymity they hide behind to continue breaking the law,” he said.

The justice minister added that he doesn’t enjoy having insults hurled at him every week, “but combating football violence is a far more important goal than being liked by a vocal minority.”

Nicolaou reiterated the government’s determination to see the anti-hooligan measures being implemented, asking everyone involved to help with lifting fan anonymity.

In a statement yesterday, the CFA said: “The body decided that, under the current climate, we do not wish to take on the responsibility of implementing the fan card. The CFA doesn’t wish to be entangled in any political confrontation or get mixed up with party interests.”

It called on the CSO to take all necessary steps to assure that the fan card was properly implemented.

The CFA went as far to warn those criticising them that they would not tolerate any barbs from anyone, questioning why they were the ones “called on to deal with a problem no one else can.”

AKEL’s argument is that the CFA is an independent body that answers to no one while the CSO is a semi-government organisation and thus under the scrutiny of the state. AKEL claims that the fans’ personal data would not be safe with the CFA and that it would be used to keep tabs on them.

The CFA decision was followed by a brief statement from the CSO, saying that in light of current developments the board would convene to decide further action.

The CFA’s advantage over the CSO is financial. The semi-government organisation cannot afford to cover the cost of implementing the fan card.

CSO deputy head Kleanthis Georgiades told the Cyprus Mail last month that the they would need to pay for the installation of CCTV cameras and face-recognition systems in stadiums used by a top league football team, along with a card reader to verify that the owner of the fan card can be allowed in the grounds. The estimated cost is around €2 million, which the CSO can’t cover.

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