NICOSIA (AFP) – Cypriot clubs face a ban from European competition next season for not meeting financial and stadium safety criteria set out by Europe’s governing body UEFA, the Cyprus Football Association (CFA) warned yesterday. CFA Chairman Costakis Koutsokoumnis called on the government to bail out first-division clubs from heavy debts by increasing the annual grant to football from $2.21 million to $8.5 million a year. «None of the 14 first-division teams meet the UEFA criteria,» Koutsokoumnis told reporters here after meeting parliamentary speaker Demetris Christofias. «We are requesting from the State that football be bolstered by an annual grant of 5 million pounds.» Koutsokoumnis said that for Cypriot teams to compete in Europe and remain in the top division they must first satisfy the UEFA criteria. UEFA calls for financial transparency, audited accounts and no outstanding transfer or contractual debts. «We are not asking for the State to pay off old debts of the clubs, but help them not create fresh debts,» Koutsokoumnis said. He explained that cash-strapped teams must balance their books by April or face the consequences of Cyprus football «not being represented in Europe in any way.» Koutsokoumnis also addressed the necessity for stadiums to meet UEFA’s infrastructure criteria, saying «only a few» enjoyed the type of sports facilities and safety measures required. «In the past, nobody thought of obtaining town-planning permission or fire and safety certificates for our stadiums before operating them,» he said. Soccer is the undisputed national pastime in Cyprus. Statistics indicate that 90 percent of all tickets sold for sporting events are for football fixtures and 70 percent of all those who participate in sport play football. This season Cyprus soccer made history by having two teams, Anorthosis Famagusta and APOEL Nicosia, progress to the second round of the UEFA Cup. APOEL almost became the first Cypriot team to reach the Champions League group stage, losing out to Greece’s AEK in the final qualifying round.