NICOSIA, Cyprus –
Cyprus’ justice minister on Wednesday unveiled a host of measures to combat fan violence at sporting events, including pre-game drug and alcohol tests, increased body searches and tougher policing.
The measures come days after opposing fans in a basketball playoff game between rivals Anorthosis and Apollon fought inside and outside the Tassos Papadopoulos stadium in the capital Nicosia, setting fire to public transport offices outside the venue.
Justice minister Anna Koukkides-Procopiou said the government will introduce legal amendments enabling police to administer drug and alcohol tests to suspected users ahead of sporting events.
Police will intensify searches of fans entering venues while bans for convicted offenders will be raised to a maximum of 10 years.
A dedicated riot squad will be tasked with exclusively sporting policing and other “high-risk” events, while police inspections and oversight of traveling fans will be stepped up.
The police arrested three people in connection with the violence at the basketball game that saw three Nicosia Public Transport offices opposite the stadium go up in flames after being hit by Molotov cocktails.
Police said six officers suffered minor injuries after being showered with flares, Molotov cocktails, rocks and other projectiles, while several police and private vehicles parked outside the stadium were damaged.
One officer who had accompanied Apollon fans aboard their bus had been suspended pending a disciplinary probe because he allegedly refused to cooperate with investigators looking into the violence, police said.
Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides condemned the violence, saying such behavior can no longer be tolerated.
“It’s been discussed, discussed again, every time after such incidents there are meetings and more meetings,” he told reporters Tuesday. “It’s time for decisions.”
Fan organizations pointed a finger of blame at law enforcement for not doing their jobs, but police representatives spoke out against what they said was a lack of support for officers on the front lines of such violence.
Other measures Koukkides-Procopiou announced were the more active involvement of police in the issuing of fan identification cards that were introduced as a way to stop unruly behavior by fans concealing their identity.
She said closed-circuit cameras will be installed at all stadiums where top-flight sporting events are being held.
The minister added that the attorney general’s office will look into legal amendments empowering police to enforce either a ban on traveling fans if deemed necessary, or canceling the event altogether.