A viral photo showing a police officer holding his firearm outside a football stadium in Cyprus has prompted the reaction of a law enforcement association that suggests proportional response to out-of-control football hooliganism could warrant the use of a lethal weapon.
Law enforcement networks are calling on state and local officials to keep hooligans away from football stadiums, following a series of recent violent confrontations between rival fans but also between spectators and police officers.
Local media said a photo taken on October 2 outside GSP stadium outside the capital, just before the kick-off between APOEL Nicosia and AEL Limassol, showed a traffic police officer walking with his firearm in his hand.
Details in the reports suggested the officer had drawn his firearm from the holster at the time when a group of organized fans were walking by while rival fans were nearby.
'If my colleague is holding his firearm, and does not seem to be preparing [to shoot] or anything, this means he saw something and he is getting ready'
Additional reports said there were only two officers present at the exact location, with local media speculating the officer had drawn his weapon out of concern that altercations could take place.
Police said they were looking into the incident without doubting the photograph but at the same time not confirming the date and location of the alleged incident.
Previous incidents involving guns drawn by police have also stirred debate in Cyprus, where officers were often accused of firing warning shots without the presence of real danger.
In one case, Paphos police defended an officer who fired warning shots after a rental vehicle failed to stop for a random inspection, while in another case two youths were injured when their quad bike was fired upon after they were flagged down.
But according to ISOTITA police association president Nicos Loizides, “the firearm goes with the uniform” and the armed officer in the photo outside the stadium did not bother anyone.
“If my colleague is holding his firearm, and does not seem to be preparing [to shoot] or anything, this means he saw something and he is getting ready,” Loizides said.
The ISOTITA president also said hooligans who go to football matches “under the disguise of organized fans” need to stay away from the game.
“Those wearing hoodies, holding bats, and throwing firework bangers are not wanted at the football matches,” said Loizides, adding that the laws would allow the police chief to examine a possible ban on movement of fans between districts.
A number of violent incidents have been taking place inside and outside football stadiums in the Republic of Cyprus, with rival fans clashing and riot police unable to make arrests.
Eye witnesses on October 2 said there were clashes on the highway just outside GSP when a full blown battle between football hooligans took place amid flares and smoke bombs, followed by tear gas from riot police who managed to make no arrests.
Angry fans also clashed with members of a personal protection detail a week later during an APOEL-Karmiotissa match, with police arresting no spectators but detaining a foreign PPD on knife possession charges and another Greek Cypriot businessman on sports violence.
Loizides argues that officers are often afraid to arrest hooligans out of fear of being accused of using excessive violence and having to give multiple depositions after the incident.
He also said in a recent game in Larnaca, hooligan fans were throwing Molotov cocktails and flares at the police.
“These things are unheard-of in Cyprus in 2022 where we allow these rascals to destroy the image of an entire state,” Loizides said, adding that the tax payer was picking up the tab for an entire operation just to police a few good-for-nothings.