THE Cyprus Sports Organisation (KOA) pledged on Thursday to stamp out abuse of the ‘professional athlete’ status given to army conscripts, with MPs saying they would have the Attorney-general look into whether sports officials broke the law.
The issue came to the fore a month ago amid allegations that the son of an athletics association member was given ‘professional athlete’ privileges in the army without once having played in a professional team. Special privileges for athlete-soldiers include being allowed out for training, events and weekends.
The House defence committee has since been made aware of several dodgy cases of soldiers serving in the ‘athletes company’ of the National Guard. Some of the conscripts are enrolled in national squads and others in club teams.
The committee was focusing on basketball in particular. Committee chairman Giorgos Varnava (EDEK) called for a new stricter selection process and criteria so that enablers – basketball federation officials – could no longer get away with giving athlete status to draftees who do not qualify.
Lawmakers heard that even non-able bodied soldiers serving in the army were somehow granted professional athlete status.
“According to the testimony and views heard today in the committee, it seems that for a number of years some people…included on these lists persons who in reality did not meet the criteria to be considered members of national teams,” Varnava said.
During the course of three committee sessions, members of the former board of the basketball federation and the current board traded blame for the situation.
DISY MP Aristotelis Misos suggested it should be left to team coaches – and not sports officials – to determine which conscripts are eligible to play professional sports.
Describing the situation at the various sports federations as “chaos,” AKEL’s Christos Mesis called on the CSO to bring it under control.
CSO chairman Klea Hadjistefanou assured parliamentarians that the organisation has formulated stricter screening processes that would crack down on abuses of the system and weed out cheaters.