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President receives report over violent basketball incidents, says public cannot feel safe (Update 3)

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The trouble at the stadium

President Nikos Christodoulides on Monday decried the violent incidents during the Apollon-Anorthosis basketball match on Sunday, saying this behaviour was unacceptable. 

Speaking to journalists, he said he had received a report by the justice minister and police chief over the matter and had requested it be discussed in the upcoming cabinet meeting on Wednesday. 

“These incidents are unacceptable. What we saw on Sunday honours nobody, and cannot be accepted.”

Asked if the public could feel safe to go to a stadium with their children, Christodoulides said “to be absolutely honest, no. I’m not going to beautify the situation after what we saw.” At the same time, efforts to avoid such incidents should not be sidelined.

Meanwhile, Apollon basketball club said the violent episodes that occurred on Sunday had nothing to do with basketball or sports in general, and lamented the fact that delinquent behaviours by some tarnished the club’s efforts to advance the sport.

Primary responsibility falls on the state and the authorities, the club maintained, for its ineffectiveness in preventing the violence. The club listed in its claims that fans from the opposing team had been let into the stadium with sharp objects before the start of the match without being controlled, while Apollon fans were subjected to strictest scrutiny and managed to enter just a few minutes before half-time, which escalated tensions.

The club also complained that the entrance between the two stands was left unguarded and that Apollon fans, including those who came with children, were attacked at half time. In 2023 technology exists to identify and sentence the offenders with severe punitive measures to deter others, the club said.

The club downplayed allegations that its followers had sought entry without tickets and fan cards and lambasted the authorities for their incompetence.

Meanwhile, a meeting is being held at the justice ministry on Monday to discuss the latest episode of sports violence which took place at the Apollon-Anorthosis basketball match over the weekend, while two people have been arrested.

Government Spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis, speaking on CyBC radio, said the meeting will examine measures and proposals to deal with violence in stadiums.

He called Sunday’s phenomena “unacceptable” and said an action plan will be drawn up to deal with the problem at its root. Sports should not endanger human lives or put police at risk, the spokesman said.

He added there may have been mistakes and omissions in the handling of the problem to date.

Head of police union Isotita, Nicos Loizides said that police are forced to operate unsupported and therefore, it is no coincidence arrests are not made. Decisions are made by technocrats, without input from police officers who are the ones on the ground, Loizides said.

The problem of sports violence will never be solved as long as officers are hamstrung and liable to face disciplinary action for use of appropriate force in dealing with persons who are violent and under the influence of drugs, he added.

Loizides further decried the fact that a competition had been scheduled to take place at a stadium not equipped with CCTV.

Speaking about a colleague who was struck by a flare and narrowly escaped serious leg injury, the police union head said specific departments must be created in each district deploying trained anti-riot squads.

For his part, Pasydy union general-secretary Stratis Mattheou, backed up Loizides’ statements saying that the police are the ones best placed to know what needs to be done.

The Disy party condemned rising incidences of violence both at sporting events and society at large. Public safety is a top priority, the party said, and tools that already exist need to be strengthened, and are at the disposal of the clubs, the Cyprus Sports Organisation (KOA) and the police.

Manager of the Cyprus Public Transport (CPT), Alexandros Kamberos, told CyBC thousands of euros of damage had been caused by the burning down of his company’s offices and the loss of electronic equipment. The bus station near the stadium is shut until further notice and commuters must catch the bus from Makario stadium.

Police meanwhile announced the arrest of two 27-year-olds, one of whom was found in possession of a half-smoked cannabis cigarette.

In the incidents which happened on Sunday at the Tassos Papadopoulos stadium in Nicosia, fans threw rocks, flares, and Molotov cocktails, injuring police, burning to the ground three prefab bus offices, and causing extensive damage to five police vehicles as well as other cars parked near the stadium.

The three injured officers were discharged after receiving first aid.

Police stopped two buses of Apollon fans and collected biometric data after obtaining written consent.

The 27-year-old found in possession of the half-smoked cannabis cigarette was accused in writing and released.

The other 27-year-old was arrested on the basis of a court warrant and taken into custody.

Nicosia police continue to search for other perpetrators.

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