By Nikolaos Prakas and Tom Cleaver

The government will legislate to give itself the power to order football matches be played behind closed doors, Justice Minister Marios Hartsiotis on Friday, lamenting the Cyprus Football Association’s failure to enact further measures to prevent fan violence.

In addition, he said, the bill would give the government the power to not allow the operation of any football fan association without the supervision of the club itself.

He said that while the measures previously announced by the CFA are in principle moving in the right direction, the government believes that “they are not doing enough to immediately and effectively deal with the problem.”

Meanwhile, President Nikos Christodoulides’ echoed his Justice minister’s sentiments regarding the CFA’s inaction, saying the measures taken are “in the right direction, but not enough.”

“As a state, we have an obligation to the safety of every last citizen,” he said, confirming the government’s plans to enact legislation to take matters into their own hands.

“We are not here to play with people’s safety,” he said, adding that he had spoken with the mother of a child who had been injured at a game, and that “anyone who is a parent cannot feel good hearing about what the child went through.”

“If people have reactions to the measures we are to announce, we are here to discuss them,” he added.

The CFA had earlier held an emergency meeting with Marios Hartsiotis on security measures following another bout of hooliganism at the latest match between Limassol rivals Ael and Apollon, where flares were thrown in the stands.

Images surfaced of flares landing near children that had attended the match with their parents.

The meeting also addressed rumours that the government might ban all fans from attending football matches, a proposal that did not sit well with footballers. They stated that if the ban were to go through, they would go on an indefinite strike.

A ban has already been implemented to prohibit all away fans from attending matches.

From the meeting with the head of CFA and the heads of the Cyprus football clubs, it emerged that all parties seemed to be against a blanket fan ban.

Issuing a statement after the meeting, CFA said that although they are against violence at matches, they would wait to see the results of a first measure, which is to ban all away fans.

Additionally, there will be increased monitoring of violations by clubs’ fans. If a club’s fans are found engaged in hooliganism, the club could face disqualification from one or more matches, complete or partial closure of stadiums, banning of certain fans from entering the stadiums, deduction of points, fines of up to half a million euros, and relegation.

However, during the meeting, Hartsiotis, as the government representative, warned attendees that if effective measures are not taken, then the state would take matters into its own hands.

He called on the clubs to take effective measures to stop hooligans, warning them that if violence on the pitch continues, then the government would proceed with shutting down team fan clubs.

The clubs raised the issue that some measures have been taken with the ban of away fans, and results had not been seen from this measure yet, as it came into effect on Thursday. Clubs also mentioned an issue with banning all fans, related to those who bought season tickets.

Commenting earlier, Government Spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis said that the government had no reluctance in taking effective measures.

He emphasized the president’s stance that incidents risking people’s lives will “not be tolerated”.

“The state is doing everything possible to ensure the safety of citizens,” he said.

Piping in support for the police, he said that there is strong police presence both on and off the pitch, but such strong presence is difficult to have at every match.

Asked at the journalists’ union event whether further measures will be taken, as the President mentioned yesterday in relation to the closure of stadiums, Letymbiotis said that “the president will not take into account the political responsibility, the safety of citizens is at stake here, he has said that nothing is excluded at this stage”.

He added: “What is paramount is to ensure that citizens are safe and that they and their children can watch the matches.”

Earlier, deputy government spokesman Yiannis Antoniou said that the issue of violence at matches is riddled with failures, issues of competence, corruption, and indifference. Referring specifically to violence on and off the field, Antoniou said the responsibilities were collective.

He called on the clubs to take on responsibility, adding that they cannot be unaware of the issue since the fans’ associations use the teams’ symbols and anthems.

Meanwhile, police chief Stelios Papatheodorou said that he would not resign over the incidents that took place at Alphamega Stadium in Limassol on Wednesday night.

“My goal is to improve the police force,” he told the media on Thursday. “Therefore, I have not considered resignation.”

Outside the stadium prior to the game, tension was already high due to an exchange of fireworks and flares between fans, which prompted immediate intervention by the police.

Police said they were seeking five suspects connected to the disturbances occurring during Wednesday’s football game.