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Segregating Turkish Cypriot fans for their own safety not the answer, Ombudswoman says

The GSP Stadium in Nicosia

Instead of Turkish Cypriots being kept isolated during football matches in the south for security reasons, there could be more police presence or stewards to ensure their safety, Ombudswoman Eliza Savvidou said in a report.

The report was prompted by complaints after a group of Turkish Cypriot football fans who had bought tickets to the Cypriot national team’s match against Belgium in September were not allowed by police to take their seats, and were instead diverted to a separate stand.

The aim, Savvidou said, was to explain why “such action not only fails to promote sports and constitutes discrimination against Turkish Cypriot fans, but sends wrong signals with regard to the possibility of both communities to coexist, share common values and experiences and prepare, with informal and everyday ways for the moment of the smooth reunification of the country”.

At this particular juncture, the report said, incidents like this one “is possible to cultivate a sense of insecurity, suspicion, disappointment, frustration and dissatisfaction among members of the two communities, undermining their will for a common path in peace and prosperity”.

The decision to have the Turkish Cypriot fans seated in separate stands, for security reasons, was taken by the head of the GSP stadium in Nicosia where the match took place, the report said, after he was informed – some 45 minutes prior to the beginning of the game – that three buses with 180 fans from the north would attend the match.

It added that fans from two buses were led to the northern stands “and not the south stands for which they had purchased their tickets, while the supporters on the third bus who had already sat down among the other Cypriot fans, were asked to move”.

“Some of them refused and remained in their positions, while others accompanied by stewards were led to the north stands, where they watched the match separately and isolated from the other fans”. This decision aimed at preventing possible heated episodes between the fans, the report said, while the management of the GSP stadium said that this tactic was followed in the past in matches between Cypriot sand Turkish teams.

“What could be done in this case, if there were security fears, would be to secure bigger presence of stewards or the police in the stadium and the thorough supervision of the premises where Turkish Cypriot fans would be located to protect them from possible verbal or physical attacks,” the report said.

“If such crimes indeed manifested, the forceful intervention by the authorities would send the message that violence targeting any citizen because of ethnicity, religion, language or other distinctive characteristics, and which cultivates hostility and undermining peace, is not tolerated,” Savvidou said.

Even though the intentions of the stadium management to protect the Turkish Cypriots is not questionable, it said, what is under question is the correctness of the way chosen to ensure this as “the isolation of Turkish Cypriots themselves in a separate stand gave more the impression that they were the ones who constituted the danger and had to be kept away from the main body of supporters”. This image, it said, recycles negative stereotypes and prejudices.

For the enjoyment of an international sporting event, it said, increased predictability and planning are required that would prevent “instant and possibly unfortunate reactions”.

The report suggests that authorities should each time assess risks and take prevention measures and make proper planning for dealing with possible violent incidents.

The challenge in such cases, it said, “is to take effective measures to combat violence and provide security to Turkish Cypriots across different social spaces within and outside stadiums in a systematic, decisive and responsible manner”.

Savvidou said that her recommendations would be notified to the police chief, the head of the GSP stadium, the Cyprus Sports Association and the Cyprus Football Association for future reference.

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