Everyone is scrambling to blame someone for Sunday’s fracas between Nicosia’s Apoel and Limassol’s Apollon fans at a Grivas memorial service in Limassol during which six police officers and two members of the public were injured in addition to extensive property damage.
Isotita union police representative Nicos Loizides said that although the number of police officers at the incident was triple the norm, it was not a well-planned operation and that a large number of those involved were newly-trained officers with barely three months of experience.
It was high time the leadership started listening to the concerns of those on the ground, he said. Officers would not accept being treated as incidental victims, he added, blaming the state for not having their back.
The fans from both teams might have the same political ideology but hatred runs deep between them in the football arena, so much so that the Apoel fans reportedly went armed and looking for trouble. The spark was the Apollon fans arriving earlier and taking up the best spots, which was really just a stupid excuse to kick off the pre-planned violence.
The Eoka Fighters’ Associations had warned of unrest prior to the event and had requested a police presence. What is not clear is whether police were aware that 200 Apoel fans were going to show up. The allocated police presence might have been perfectly fine if this had not been a factor. If they had an inkling about the Apoel fans, then they are guilty of lack of foresight, if what Loizides said is true.
During football matches, police go to great lengths to make sure fans from opposing teams enter and leave stadiums from different points to ensure as little interaction as possible.
Apart from the fact that any sane person might wonder what society – parents, schools and the army – has done to produce these hooligans, police also need to stop making themselves into the victims. The risk of being attacked is part of the job.
Generally, not only is Cyprus a relatively safe country for residents but also for police. In the US, where decades of distrust has built up due to the actions of both criminals and rogue cops, a single traffic stop can result either in the fatal shooting of an officer or a driver.
In the past, police in Cyprus have had no problem turning on their water cannons and injuring unarmed members of the public during peaceful protests, or indeed beating individuals up when they think no one is looking. How many of these ‘bad apple’ officers have been punished?
Police often carry out PR campaigns to try and project an image that they are there for the public, and yes, individuals can be non-compliant, which makes it difficult at times. Mostly police do a good job but the only way to gain the trust of the public is accountability for those times when they get it wrong, not scrambling for someone else to blame.