Cyprus soccer on the spot after death of policeman

NICOSIA – Cyprus’s soccer authorities came under unprecedented pressure yesterday to clean up their act after a weekend of violence left a policeman dead and 27 people injured. The violence at Saturday’s AEL Limassol vs APOEL Nicosia match was among the worst seen at a Cypriot fixture in recent years and confirmed the worst fears of the police, who wanted the game canceled because tensions were running high beforehand. The Cyprus Football Association (CFA) has said it needs more power to punish teams with errant supporters. «The CFA believes the time is now right to give its disciplinary panel authority to bar spectators from games,» the governing body said in a statement. The measure has not been previously endorsed because of opposition from teams. The proposal would go to a forthcoming meeting of the CFA, an official said. The 43-year-old police sergeant collapsed as riot officers tried to quell stone-throwing crowds well after the game ended in a 1-1 draw. The officer was carrying an injured colleague to an ambulance when he lost consciousness. Violence at Cypriot soccer fixtures is normally kept in check, with the only previous serious injury a near-fatal stabbing at a game in 2001. But critics say the game is being increasingly hijacked by politics and has turned into a happy hunting ground for political parties seeking to bolster their support. AEL’s chairman Ayis Agapiou is an MP for the Communist AKEL party, a senior partner in Cyprus’s coalition government. APOEL is known to be a bastion of Disy supporters, the right-wing party now in opposition. An unofficial website proclaims the team is «100 percent anti-communist.» «Football is the means by which political fanaticism is bred,» the daily Politis said in a front-page editorial. Compared to the front-page treatment in other newspapers, coverage of the incidents was muted in Haravghi, the Communist AKEL party mouthpiece. Soccer officials rebuffed police suggestions that they were to blame. «Those who had the responsibility [for maintaining order] failed. Violence was used against fans at the first opportunity,» Agapiou told state radio. Many fans claim that the violence was a result of simmering resentment between the cities of Limassol and Nicosia, with soccer merely giving opportunity for its expression. (Additional reporting by Michele Kambas.)

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