FOR ONCE, we saw that the zero tolerance policy towards hooliganism we have been hearing about for years was not restricted to brave words uttered on radio shows by politicians. In Limassol on Sunday, during the AEL-APOEL league match, the police had a plan for dealing with the troublemakers and implemented it.
There may have been a pitch invasion by some hooligans during the first half, which caused a 20-minute interruption to the game, and they also started a fire in the stands subsequently but they did not get away with. Ideally, the police should not have allowed the pitch invasion or the fire to be started (there was also damage to property) but there might not have been adequate numbers of officers to take on the mob. The use of a fire-hose to put out the fire and disperse fans was a good idea.
But at least there was a plan, unlike other matches when supporters go on the rampage and a couple of arrests are made. After the match, the police stopped the buses of the APOEL fans from leaving. They carried out searches of the buses, and detained fans that had been involved in the vandalism – either because they had been spotted on CCTV or because their clothing was wet which meant they had been hurling items at officers when they were trying to put out the fire.
Forty-four fans were detained, of whom nine were taken to court on Monday and three-day remand orders were issued against them. Police were looking for another 32 people who had been seen participating in the violence on CCTV. The authorities meant business and were not prepared to forget the incidents, as had been the case in the past. It was also reassuring to hear the APOEL president calling for the punishment of the troublemakers even though they were supporters of his club.
The trouble should provide justice minister Ionas Nicolaou with another strong argument for his campaign to introduce the fan ID card. There has been strong opposition from the clubs and some political parties to its introduction but Nicolaou has stuck to his plan and hoped to have the ID card scheme in place for the new football season. Had the scheme been in place, it would have been easier to identify the troublemakers through CCTV and to enforce a ban on attending future matches, if the court passed such a sentence.
It is good to see such commitment and determination in tackling hooliganism by a minister and the police.