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20 July, 2024
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Alphamega riots amplify football strife

Cyprus football at crossroads amid escalating violence

Pavlos Neophytos

The management of violence in stadiums hinges on the outcomes of the upcoming extraordinary CFA meeting this Friday, prompted by the recent turmoil at ''Alphamega''.

Cyprus football witnessed two unprecedented events: the halting of a match following intervention by the President and the Minister of Justice, and discussions on potentially suspending games until decisive actions are agreed upon. These developments fuel heightened expectations for substantive changes, with stakeholders, including the Presidential office, Ministry of Justice, Police, CFA, and clubs, under scrutiny for accountability.

The government and police emphasize union responsibility, while unions advocate for increased authority, expressing concerns over political interference and police handling.

In the days ahead, discussions will center on whether matches will proceed, potentially without spectators, among other possibilities. Proposals will be debated, but effectiveness is paramount. The defensive stance of the police chief and his guarded responses following the incidents underscore underlying security concerns among fans, necessitating swift remedies.

Waiting for the presidential meeting
The president is waiting for the decisions to be taken on Friday at the meeting of the Executive Committee of the CFA, according to statements to the "K" of the government spokesman, Konstantinos Letymbiotis, stressing that, before it begins, the Minister of Justice, Marios Hartsiotis, will speak to the participants to present the views and concerns of the government. The results of the meeting will depend on the direction of taking measures, which, for now, he clarified, is not specific, but various ideas are on the table. "Nothing is excluded. The only issue is that a permanent solution must be found for this problem, it is not possible to repeat the riots," Letympiotis said.

"If there were a victim, the blame would lie with the government."
Asked to comment on the associations ' references to a political decision so that yesterday's match would not be held in the end, the spokesman said that in no case was there a political decision, but the decision was taken according to the legislation "what happened last night, after the incidents began is that, the president of the Republic was informed, contacted himself and the Minister of Justice and Public Order, who functionally contacted the responsible police officer on the pitch.

He was informed by the playing field police officer in charge that based on the number of spectators and the operational capabilities of the police, at that time there could not be adequate policing of the venue. The Minister of Justice and Public Order then in coordination with the president of the Republic, told the police officer to inform the referee of the match and the referee of the match, just as the legislation provides, decided not to hold the match," he explained.

Asked if this was an override of the Chief of Police, the spokesman replied that"obviously it was after consultation with the Chief of police that the Minister of Justice and Public Order contacted the police officer in charge." He added: "If there was a victim on Wednesday night, the blame would also lie with the government. It's not a question of anyone being bypassed.'

On the responsibilities attributed to the police in relation to the incidents, he noted that regardless of whether someone attributes responsibilities to the police or not, on Wednesday night there was increased policing at the "Alphamega" Stadium, adding that "it is not possible for one policeman to be in the stadium for every fan".

The two options for the Minister of Justice
The Minister of Justice, Marios Chartsiotis, in his statements on the show "ALPHA Kalimera" about the incidents that occurred on Wednesday night, referred for his part to the possibility of a ban on the holding of games, until the institutions come to an understanding and proceed to take strict measures. In particular, he noted that in the face of the upsurge of fan violence there are two options: "the police in any high-risk football to enter into a fight with all the consequential eventualities and collateral consequences, or to no longer enter into this process and to have a ban on the holding of the games until the bodies come to an understanding and take strict measures. It is not possible to place all the blame on the police, " he said.

"The police took all necessary measures but the incidents had started before the match in a specific organised form outside the stadium. It is unfair to talk about 10-15 rioters, yesterday there were hundreds, not to say thousands, " he said. The Justice Minister reiterated the police position that thorough checks were being carried out. "How they got into the stadium can very easily be perceived and understood by anyone and it is not of the present. When they want to do these things, they will find a way to do it. The bottom line is that we have reached the point where a whole police force is mobilized to avoid a fight with hundreds or thousands of now so-called fans, which to me is unacceptable and beyond all reason."

Police Chief: I haven't thought about resigning
A press conference on the incidents was given on Thursday morning by police chief Stelios Papatheodorou. He expressed the position that the measures are in the right direction, while, asked if he intends to resign, he replied "We are here and we are giving our best. I haven't thought about resigning." For dangerous objects he noted that most of them are large in size and it is seriously considered not to pass through the entrances. "They may be passed on by agents or individuals who are directly related to the stadium," he said.

The leader resumed the position of deputy government spokesman and Minister of Justice, photographing the role of the unions. In particular, he noted that the police is not the only competent authority to deal with the phenomena of fan violence, stressing that there are other bodies that seem unable to control their fans. "One team had done it and excluded its fans," he recalled. Asked if he has responsibilities he replied that " it is not a matter of responsibilities, as police we do our best to have this place safe. My purpose is to improve the police."

At the same time, the clubs of the rival teams, Apollon and AEL, condemned the incidents, stressing the need for collective work by all involved in football. For the non-start of the race they spoke of a political decision, expressing at the same time their concern.

Apollo board member Sokratis Ellinikos addressed concerns about the recent events, stating, "Any incidents are condemned by us. We, as an association, are also trying to contribute to the optimization of fan behavior. It's a collective effort involving everyone in football."

Regarding the decision not to start the match, Ellinikos remarked, "We deem it unjustified. As soon as the police intervened, order was restored without any scuffle. The police officer and the referee decided the match could start. A few seconds before the race began, something tipped over. We have been told that it is a political decision that will have to be implemented. We think the fight could have started, had order been restored.

There was only one announcement from the loudspeakers after which there was full compliance. I understand the intention of the PD and the minister to enforce order. I don't know how these objects got in. The scrutiny on us was thorough on our fans, athletes, and Apollon agents. Yesterday no firecracker fell on the pitch by a fan of Apollon, no torch fell on the pitch by a fan of Apollon. We are willing to do what we have to do to fight violence in stadiums."

Regarding the future of the match, Ellinikos noted, "I'm sure it will go to the Sports Judge. We think the match could have been made at the time. If we want football to win, the game has to be with fans. We'll do what we have to do to protect Apollon. Nothing happened from Apollon's side to justify not starting the race."

AEL's vice president, Nikolas Karasamanis, expressed concerns about the situation, stating, "What happens if we don't stop and the golden mean is not found by all of us we will have worse. They started everything with very serious incidents off the pitch off the pitch.

The decision to cancel the match stemmed from a political directive, raising concerns as the security apparatus, typically responsible for ensuring match continuity, saw its authority overridden by external parties. This decision not only halts the game but also underscores the unsettling influence of non-field actors.

Commenting on AEL's position, Karasamanis emphasized, "AEL maintains that all matches should proceed and conclude on the field. While acknowledging fan incursions and pre-match incidents from both teams, the 10-minute cooling-off period, as suggested by the referee, yielded no resolution."

Addressing accountability, he underscored, "We adhere to state laws and comply with police directives. Ultimately, the state and police bear responsibility."

Discussing security protocols, Karasamanis highlighted, "The stadium undergoes police surveillance 48 hours prior to matches. If incidents persist despite this vigilance, it raises concerns. Additionally, residents of Nicosia rightfully expect stronger security measures amidst daytime gunfire and incendiary incidents."

Reflecting on existing measures, he concluded, "Despite allocating over 1 million euros to oversight in the last five years, identifying perpetrators remains a challenge. Legislative and governmental shortcomings exacerbate the situation."

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

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