Some 30 athletes, the majority of them footballers playing in Cyprus’ first and second divisions, could soon lose their health cards obtained from the Cyprus Sports Association (KOA), because they did not do their compulsory military service due to alleged mental illnesses.
As reported by daily Politis on Friday, this would effectively mean that the footballers in question will not be able to take part in any official match until they do their military service.
The athletes in question reportedly took advantage of a loophole in a 2019 bill passed to tackle army absenteeism among athletes to obtain their health card.
The issue was discussed during a House Defence Committee on Thursday and a bill is expected to be passed before the end of the year that will see the annulment of the health cards obtained by the footballers.
The athletes had reportedly only served one or two months in the army before applying for an exemption citing mental illness immediately after receiving their CFO health cards, for which they had applied beforehand.
Paradoxically, this means that athletes can compete at the top levels of Cypriot football while deemed physically and mentally unfit to serve in the army.
CFO President Andreas Michaelides asked MPs on the House Defence Committee to be granted powers to cancel the footballers’ health cards without having to directly inform them at training grounds or stadiums, “in order to avoid personal problems as well as seeing other athletes using the same loophole.”
Michaelides’ request was accepted by MPs and it was decided to include it in the provisions of the bill submitted by the Ministry of Defence after the approval of a representative of the Legal Service.
Effectively, it was decided to inform the footballers about the annulment of their health cards through the clubs they belong to, which, in turn, would contact them personally.
Diko MP Pavlos Mylonas advocated for the immediate passage of the new bill, adding that the principle of equality should be applied to all, including athletes.
“It is inconceivable that some athletes serve in the army and others do not,” he said.
At the same time, however, Akel MP Costas Costa said the new bill would discriminate against athletes actually battling depression issues.
“We need to be careful as there are several documented cases of athletes, including footballers, who suffer from depression,” he said.