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Going soft on hooliganism a sad example of consensus politics

Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou’s willingness to re-examine the punishments stipulated by law was a concession to the clubs

THERE has always been a tendency for government to give in to pressure groups, changing provisions of bills and amending policies in order to keep the public happy. This practice is an offshoot of the consensus philosophy of government by which all interest groups are given a say in decision-making and the government’s overriding concern is to keep as many of them happy as possible. It is rule by committee and this usually gives rise to ineffective measure and laws.

Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou’s decision to look into the possibility of reducing the penalties imposed for offences committed at sports grounds should be viewed in this context. Certain provisions of the sports-related law in relation to punishments were excessive said Nicolaou on Monday after a meeting with the Cyprus Football Association (CFA) and club officials, and he was considering amending them. He gave as an example the lighting of flares in sports grounds, which was a criminal offence under the law. The minister was considering making this a civil offence, even though no decision had been taken.

Monday’s meeting was called to discuss the grievances of the football clubs over the introduction last August of the fan card. Under the law, every person needed this card to gain entry into a football ground. The card, which is one of the measures aimed at tackling football hooliganism, came into effect at the start of this football season despite the strong objections of clubs that, helped by the political parties, managed to delay its introduction for some years.

A few months after its introduction, the CFA and the clubs are complaining that ticket sales for matches had fallen by 30 per cent. To his credit, Nicolaou did not accept that the cause was the fan card, arguing that live matches on television, match-fixing and poor performances by certain teams may have caused the reduction. There is also another argument he could have used – fans who had refused to have a card issued would eventually do so rather than never go to a football ground again. Their boycott of matches was unlikely to last.

Nicolaou’s willingness to re-examine the punishments stipulated by law was a concession to the clubs and the CFA, as he was not prepared to heed their demands about the fan card. This was a mistake also, because if there is no strong deterrent to firing flares during matches, and the only punishment is a fine, fans will start using them again. The purpose of making their use a criminal offence, after all, was not to put football fans in prison but to stop the use of flares. That is why it should remain a criminal offence and Nicolaou should give up the idea of appeasing the club officials who have a share of the responsibility for the spread of football hooliganism.

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