By Evie Andreou
The Cyprus Football Association’s (CFA) decision to exclude disabled AEL fans from watching the cup final with APOEL on Wednesday by choosing a stadium with no adequate seating for wheelchairs is a breach of human rights, head of the Paraplegic Association Demetris Lambrianides said on Tuesday.
The cup final is to take place at GSZ stadium in Larnaca, which Lambrianides said has space for eight wheelchairs in the east stands, where APOEL fans will be seated.
The association sent a letter of complaint to the CFA asking them to make arrangements so that all disabled fans who wish to watch the game can do so, after they received an email on Friday from the CFA’s safety and security officer Stavros Stavrou, who told them to inform their members not to go to the match to avoid unnecessary inconvenience as there would be no space for them.
The email said there was no room for wheelchairs in the west stands where AEL fans would be sitting, and that all eight disabled seats in the east stands had already been reserved by APOEL fans.
“Facilitating disabled people in spaces with no proper infrastructure poses a hazard to them and their escorts,” the email said.
“It is unthinkable that the CFA chose to organise a cup final match in a stadium where people in wheelchairs cannot have access,” Lambrianides told the Cyprus Mail.
He added that it was a form of discrimination to forbid entrance to the stadium to the fans of one of the two competing teams.
“The GSZ stadium has plenty of space around the field which could be utilised; they could arrange a space there for wheelchairs,” Lambrianides added.
“We are really sorry we cannot accommodate more people but safety comes first,” Stavrou said on Tuesday.
He added that he cannot allow them to sit in the space right next to the field, since it is too dangerous.
“What if a flare is hurled into the field and falls on them?” he said.
He added that all stadiums are required by law to have a number of spaces reserved for wheelchairs but that because of the cup final there is increased demand.
“There was a thought of reserving half of the eight seats in the east stands but was deemed too dangerous to have AEL fans seated within the APOEL fan area,” he said.
For Lambrianides, however, existing spaces for the disabled are few since he said stadiums should have at least one per cent of their capacity reserved for people in wheelchairs.
He added that football is a very popular sport and naturally many disabled people are fans and they’d rather watch matches at the stadiums than on a screen at home.
The Ombudswoman’s office condemned the fans’ exclusion and said perceptions and practices that perpetuate the marginalisation of the disabled downgrade the principles the specific match and sports in general serve.
Security concerns are understandable, it said, however “neither security nor the principles of conducting such games allow or justify in any way the exclusion or restriction of access to the disabled to a sports event”.
It added that this issue should not be taken lightly as it challenges the country’s level of respect of the rights of the disabled and their equal participation in sports and social activities and events.
Of all the stadiums in Cyprus that host football matches, only the GSP in Nicosia and the Antonis Papadopoulos in Larnaca have made arrangements to accommodate more wheelchairs, Lambrianides said, but still more needs to be done.