After hooligans went on a rampage outside the Tassos Papadopoulos-Eleftheria indoor stadium in Nicosia last month, setting fire to the bus company offices, politicians decided to address the matter. President Christodoulides declared that it was time for actions, and a few days after the incident the council of ministers announced a set of measures aimed at tackling violence in sports stadiums.
Legislation was needed for some of the measures decided, many of which were of a sociological nature, looked to address the causes of the violence rather than dealing with the problem now. Justice Minister Anna Koukkidou Prokopiou gave an idea of the government’s liberal thinking at the House earlier this week, when she presented the government’s measures. A long-term plan that would take a “people-centred and holistic” approach would be put together, in cooperation with the education ministry and the deputy ministry for welfare, she said.
She said a social programme aimed at preventing violence inside and outside stadiums would be formulated by an advisory committee, made up of sociologists, psychologists, and detox experts, as it had been established that use of drugs was directly related to violence at sports grounds. An advisory committee to study the matter can keep talking and exchanging theories for years about the social causes of violent behaviour, without coming to any conclusions. Changing the culture through education was another idea mentioned that will be as effective as the plan to stop young fans using drugs.
Everyone avoided mentioning the one measure with the highest probability of putting an end to the violence – effective policing. The main prerequisite for this is the full backing of the police by the politicians, something that is not forthcoming. On the contrary, when police have used some force to impose law and order, they are invariably accused by the politicians and the clubs of having used “excessive force.” This has resulted in police being reluctant to act when faced with a crowd of thugs hurling stones at them and destroying property.
The Mobile Action Unit (Mmad), it was said, will study the needs of anti-riot teams, although nothing definite was decided. Nobody seems to understand that it is not studies that we need but police action. There needs to be a bigger police presence at high-risk matches, for which the bill should be picked up by the clubs involved, and police should be backed by the politicians when they use force to quell the trouble. Thugs will think twice about engaging in violent behaviour if they see a big number of officers at a stadium and know that force will be used against them if they misbehave.
This is the only approach the thugs would understand. The people-centric and holistic approach of the minister might produce a lot of studies, but without police action, the problem will never go away.