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Cyprus football’s safety dilemma

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Most dangerous objects, like firecrackers and flares, are brought into the stadium through the gates, hidden in clothes

In recent months, concerns have arisen over the safety and security of football matches in Cyprus, following a string of violent incidents at stadiums across the country, which highlighted the need for enhanced security measures and stricter enforcement to ensure the safety of fans, players, and staff alike.

The latest incident, which occurred during the infamous Limassol derby between Ael and Apollon at Alphamega Stadium, resulted in the match being abandoned due to fan violence.

Despite calls for the chief of police Stelios Papatheodorou to resign, he decided to hold on to his post.

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

But how can authorities come to grasp with violent incidents that have affected football games in Cyprus for decades?

The president of the Football Players Association (PASP) Spyros Neophitides pointed the fingers at the lack of proper technology inside the stadiums, which could help identify troublemakers faster and better.

“Installing proper CCTV in stadiums is not that expensive. We need better security, for the sake of fans that want to enjoy the games and for the players as well,” he said.

“We briefed the justice minister with a demonstration on the difference between the security systems that exist now in Cyprus in the stadiums and those that exist in as many as 150 other countries.

“He understood through the demonstration that there is no stadium that meets the requirements, particularly concerning CCTV, in Cyprus. It is up to the justice ministry to take the rein on this issue.”

The general manager of the GSP stadium in Nicosia Fivos Constantinides said the challenges encountered in upholding stadium security are “profound and multifaceted.”

Constantinides pointed at the inherent difficulties in detecting concealed hazardous items, such as flares and firecrackers, which often evade scrutiny despite rigorous checks at entry points.

Moreover, he stressed the imperative of bolstering the training regimen for stadium stewards and advocated for comprehensive legislative reforms to plug existing security gaps effectively.

“Most dangerous objects, like firecrackers and flares, are brought into the stadium through the gates, hidden in clothes,” he said.

“Despite our best efforts, these items manage to infiltrate our security measures, posing a significant risk to public safety.”

“The main issue lies in the lack of effective measures to combat violence. We lack the necessary mindset and infrastructure to address this issue adequately.”

feature john chief of police stelios papatheodorou
Chief of Police Stelios Papatheodorou

An anonymous security guard working at the GSP stadium during weekend games echoed Constantinides’ sentiments, underlining the arduous task of thwarting the intentions of individuals, often underage, who frequently elude accountability for their actions.

The security guard emphasised the necessity for stringent enforcement of regulations and proposed the universal issuance of fan cards to all people entering sports venues in Cyprus, irrespective of age, as a deterrent against instances of violence.

Under the current regulation, people under the age of 18 are not required to present fan cards.

However, for registration in the fans’ registry, they must necessarily submit a parental consent declaration form completed and signed by their guardian to the Cyprus Sports Organisation (CSO).

That said, according to the security guard, a sizeable number of underage fans, do not submit the form, rendering them practically invisible to the authorities.

“Checks are as thorough as possible, but we are often outnumbered by the sheer volume of fans,” he told the Cyprus Mail.

Underage individuals exploit this vulnerability, this crack in the system and manage to sneak in dangerous objects that compromise the safety of everyone present.

He also said flares and firecrackers are only one of the many problems to tackle in stadiums across the countries.

“Flares and firecrackers are easy to conceal and they can create serious problems.

“But, on top of that, there are other problems. Violent fans can meet prior to the games, they can meet in other areas, they can meet after the games. It is difficult for the police to control them effectively.”

Police spokesperson Christos Andreou also acknowledged the inherent unpredictability of fans at stadiums and stressed the indispensable role of collaborative efforts in addressing security concerns.

Andreou explained the strategic deployment of law enforcement personnel contingent on the perceived risk associated with each match, citing factors such as historical rivalries and proximity between competing teams.

Nevertheless, he advocated for the imposition of stringent penalties on offenders to deter future incidents effectively.

“The nature of violent incidents at stadiums is unpredictable, making it challenging for law enforcement to contain them effectively,” he said.

“We adjust our deployment strategies based on various risk factors to mitigate potential disruptions.”

Andreou also spoke about the incidents at Alphamega Stadium during the derby between Ael and Apollon, which was called off.

“We found a bag of flares before the game, like it happened at GSP stadium many other times.

“However, stadiums are very big, they have a lot of space and objects could be brought in days before the games, when no police officers or stewards are around,” he said.

“The police are doing their absolute best to make sure that objects do not make their way into the stadiums. But teams need to also take responsibility for their own fans.”

Andreou said the police is in favour of stricter penalties for troublemakers.

“Jail sentences have also been bestowed upon fans who acted violently at games. Police are strict, they do their jobs, but all parties involved, including football clubs and stewards, must take their responsibilities,” Andreou said.

Despite these calls for action, PASP’s Neophytides expressed skepticism about the immediate implementation of necessary security measures.

“If I told you that I’m optimistic, I’d be a liar. These things need to be done immediately for the safety of the people. Immediately.”

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