CYPRUS: Football Fan Card is unloved and unwanted

While the government insists on keeping the newly introduced fan card, designed to clamp down on football violence, clubs argue that dwindling attendances and lack of safe stadia make the scheme unworkable.

Stadiums were almost empty last season with the fan card directly blamed for low attendances as the majority of supporters stayed away in protest at the card’s introduction.

According to club estimates, ticket sales have dropped by around 40%, while players on the pitch were playing without the vocal backing of their supporters.

The card was introduced in a desperate bid by the state and the football authorities to stamp out hooliganism which had gotten out of hand.

Fans objected to being placed on a register controlled by the Cyprus Football Federation, tickets cannot be bought without first getting a card � this has caused delays at stadiums as people waited to be issued with one before buying a ticket.

Furthermore, fans disliked the strict penalties introduced under legislation accompanying the introduction of the card. A fan could go to jail for shouting insults at the referee, a common practice at local football games.

The fan card scheme was drawn up by former Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou who resigned over outcry against the way police officers handled cases of missing women who were found murdered at the hands of a serial killer.

New Minister George Savvides appears adamant about keeping the fan card with some minor changes that will not alter the philosophy of the scheme.

Savvides believes that fan cards can be connected to a clubs’ loyalty membership scheme while reducing penalties for minor offences inside the grounds will put the scheme on a healthier footing.

Savvides said parliament, the Cyprus Football Association and the clubs should come to terms with the fact that the fan card is here to stay.

He argues that the card has proven its worth as the 2018-2019 was the only season in the past few years without any incident of violence occurring at first division games.

Dangerous stadiums

Meanwhile, it would appear the card is redundant as the majority of first division stadiums do not have the infrastructure needed for its operation.

Infrastructure requires includes proper seating arrangements such as numbered seats that correspond to each allocated ticket and a high-quality TV surveillance system to ensure troublemakers are easily identified.

A recent request of Omonia Nicosia FC to use the Makarios Stadium, the capital’s oldest, was denied for safety reason in games attracting large crowds.

Omonia was informed by the Cyprus Sports Organisation (KOA) that they could not use the stadium as it was deemed by police to be unfit to host high-risk games.

In the aftermath of KOA’s response, an older police report from 2015 surfaced, which showed that the vast majority of football stadia in Cyprus are not only unfit but pose a danger to spectators and athletes.

The Cyprus Football Association, the sport’s governing body, sent a letter to the government and parliament asking for fan card legislation to be suspended until stadia are able to comply to safety criteria.

CFA press officer Constantinos Shamboullis told the Financial Mirror the association is concerned about reports showing stadia to be unsafe and are demanding the House suspend legislation until the end of the year.

Meanwhile, MPs had been discussing the suspension of legislation until the end of the year as a way to reviving football in Cyprus.

MPs were prompted to go ahead with suspending the fan card after new evidence suggested that a number of stadia should not be operational.

AKEL MP Evanthia Savva told the Financial Mirror that they are increasingly worried over the issue.

We have heard the police tell us that the majority of stadia should not be operational. We’ve been told by the Stadia Licensing Authority that most stadiums do not have their licenses in place. We were even told of stadia which received a license for only half of their premises.

When she asked the police how many cases of violence were solved utilizing the fan card legislation, a police representative said that just 3 out of 7 cases were solved using the fan card.

The reason is that the majority of stadia do not have a high-resolution surveillance system. So, they had images of the persons involved but could not identify them.

The consensus among the political parties for suspending legislation, however, is splintering. It would appear that ruling DISY have backed out as they seek changes similar to those proposed by the government, while DIKO has openly said that they will not support the suspension.

Acknowledging that the fan card has played its part on preventing violence at football grounds, the Cyprus Football Players Association PASP feels that the scheme has also played a role in pushing more fans away from the game.

Of course, attendances are not dwindling just because of the fan card. We have seen fan numbers following a downward trend for some years now. Cyprus football has long lost its credibility for a number of reasons, said PASP’s executive president Spyros Neofytides.

He said; however, the fan card was not well thought through as there is concern over the general state of football stadiums.

Most stadia have serious issues which in some cases put the lives and health of both athletes and spectators at risk. Most stadia do not even have proper toilet facilities, pointed out Neofytides.

He argued that the fan card is pointless and an unnecessary measure.

Pointless as the majority of stadia are not equipped with high-resolution CCTV cameras, and therefore authorities are not able to identify offenders, while there is no proper seating arrangement.

He said the entire scheme is based on face recognition of the offender and the seat they have been allocated.

So, a high-resolution CCTV system is necessary to identify offenders. With such systems in place the card would be unnecessary, as authorities could easily identify troublemakers through their ID card or even with the help of clubs if they have a membership scheme, said Neofytides.

Source: The Financial Mirror