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As Greek football drama unfolds, gun-wielding oligarch takes over major pro-SYRIZA newspaper

As Greek football faces expulsion from international competition, Ivan Savvidis remains free after storming football pitch with a gun, buys major newspaper

A day after the PAOK-AEK football match erupted into mayhem, as an armed Ivan Savvidis, the oligarch owner of PAOK, stormed the pitch after a controversial reversal by the referee, Greek football, and by extension the Greek political system, remains mired in confusion.

Yesterday’s “derby” between the two frontrunners of this season’s Super League never finished, after a goal scored in the 90th minute by PAOK was initially allowed, then later waived off. An unhinged Savvidis angrily stormed the pitch while brandishing a weapon, threatening the referee’s life while urging his players to return to the locker room. As it happens, the match never continued, but two hours later, the referee decided from the locker rooms to reverse his previous reversal, allowing the goal scored by PAOK and including it in his official match report sent to the Super League’s head offices.

In the aftermath of this unprecedented issue, which made headlines worldwide and once again thrust Greece into the negative limelight, more confusion has begun to set in, while the hypocrisy of the current SYRIZA-led government has once again become evident.

One day after Savvidis stormed the football field while openly carrying a weapon and threatening the life of the referee, he continues to walk free and to make pronouncements against all those who have purportedly “wronged” PAOK. Indeed, the fact that Savvidis is still a free man today was the subject of an official announcement released by the National Union of Police Employees, openly questioning why Savvidis was not arrested when, by law, weapons are not allowed in Greek stadiums and when even police officers are not allowed to be armed inside sporting facilities.

Also questioning the impunity with which Savvidis is apparently allowed to operate is New Democracy’s second-in-command, former health minister Adonis Georgiadis, himself under investigation as part of the so-called “Novartis scandal” which could easily be classified as a SYRIZA witch hunt against its political opposition and an obvious distraction from other more politically inconvenient matters. In a televised interview on Monday morning, Georgiadis openly asked “what sort of hold does Savvidis have over [prime minister] Tsipras?”

Part of the answer as to why Savvidis remains free may come from the hold he now has over the current government and over public discourse in Greece via his newly-acquired media holdings. Just last year, Savvidis purchased 100 percent of national broadcaster Epsilon TV. Today, following the mayhem which transpired on the football field and certainly apropos of nothing, Savvidis completed his takeover of the pro-SYRIZA national newspaper Ethnos.

To give you an example of just the type of brazen propaganda Ethnos is serving up, consider the front page of its Monday edition (pictured below), which made no mention of the weapon Savvidis was brandishing, but which stated as fact to its readers that PAOK’s goal was legitimate, while being sure to include a quotation from SYRIZA’s deputy minister of athletics about “cleaning up” football.

Savvidis’ ownership of Ethnos and Epsilon TV is in addition to his major business holdings, which include everything from factories, to soft drink producers, to luxury hotels, to the leadership of a consortium which recently took over ownership of the port of Thessaloniki, privatized by the same SYRIZA which at one time, prior to its election, was promising to abolish all such privatizations.

Instead of punishing Savvidis, the SYRIZA-led government’s first order of business on Monday was to issue an order immediately halting matches in the Greek Super League and the Football League (Greek football’s second division). This has become SYRIZA’s “go-to” option every time whenever deemed politically expedient to appear to be taking action against corruption and violence in the ranks of Greek football.

Beginning in 2015 and again in 2016, the SYRIZA-led government postponed matches in the Greek Super League after various violent incidents occurred. In 2016, this postponement and the government’s efforts to push through “reforms” in the structure and governance of the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) led to Greek teams — both at the club and national level — to be formally threatened with expulsion from international competition by the sport’s international governing body, FIFA. SYRIZA eventually backed off, though many of its “reforms” were passed — reforms which SYRIZA has since used to tout its “cleanup” of Greek football.

This “catharsis” has been such a success that last season, during yet another government-imposed suspension of league play, the Greek Cup final between PAOK and AEK at a neutral site in Volos, a match which was not covered by this suspension, was marred by gang warfare and violence between “fans” of the two sides, resulting in multiple injuries and tremendous material damage to the Panthessalian Stadium and the surrounding environs.

SYRIZA’s “law and order” seemingly was not applicable to PAOK and AEK, both owned by oligarchs favorable to SYRIZA, and both teams received fairly lenient punishment. On the other hand, in a match last season between Panathinaikos and PAOK at the former’s home pitch in Athens, the match was suspended after a spectator threw a can of beer at a PAOK player. Panathinaikos, a team facing severe economic difficulties, was harshly punished, with a deduction of points both in last season’s final standings and in this season’s table as well, plus a hefty fine. The fine, plus lost proceeds from Panathinaikos’ non-qualification to the lucrative UEFA Champions League — which was a direct result of the points that were deducted — have contributed to the team’s near-bankruptcy this season.

Despite all of this, we are supposed to believe that this year’s suspension of league matches will be an effective action against violence and corruption in the football world. This from the same government which imposed the very personnel in the national football federation which, in a ruling issued at 1 am on an early Sunday morning, overturned a previous decision and allowed Sunday’s PAOK-AEK match to take place in front of spectators, following an incident in PAOK’s previous home match where a spectator hurled an object at the opposing team’s coach, injuring him.

Punishment in Greece, at least on the part of the SYRIZA-led government, comes “a la carte” or is levied across the board, whether one is guilty or not and depending on the government’s whims and petty interests. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that aside from the indefinite suspension of league matches, the government is also reportedly examining the expulsion of Greek club teams from international competition for two years.

In other words, all teams, all owners, all players and all fans will be punished for the actions of an out-of-control gun-wielding oligarch and the state’s own inability (or lack of desire) to effectively curtail violence and corruption. Why should, for instance, Panathinaikos, a team that despite teetering on the edge of bankruptcy has managed to be in position to qualify for European competition next season, be punished? Why should this year’s surprise team, Atromitos FC, which is eyeing a position as high as third place in this year’s league table and a place in the UEFA Europa League, be punished? Why should all teams, and the Greek economy at large, be denied the revenues that would come as part of the participation of Greek teams in European competitions?

And who told the SYRIZA-led government that it would be able to implement such an “a la carte” prohibition of Greek participation in international football competitions, one in which Greek clubs would not compete for two years but an exemption would be made for the national team? Is this SYRIZA’s decision to make — or that of the sport’s governing bodies, FIFA and UEFA?

Indeed, FIFA is reportedly already threatening EPO and the Greek government with a “Grexit” of Greek football from all international competitions, at both the national and club level, if the issue of violence in the ranks of Greek football is not effectively and immediately dealt with. And such a “Grexit” would likely be for more than two years, impact both club and national teams (including Greece’s junior-level national teams, who more than anyone are not at fault for the ills of Greek football), and would mean that Greek teams would be classified at the lowest ranks of club and national team rankings, which would mean that once club teams and the national squads are reinstated by FIFA and UEFA, they will face very tough draws for European and international competitions, making the recovery of Greek football even more of an uphill battle, with further economic consequences possible as well.

These are the “solutions” eyed by the “law and order” government of SYRIZA, instead of, you know, arresting those who storm the football pitch with guns, instead of mandating the installation of surveillance cameras in close intervals at every Greek stadium, instead of making an example out of hooligans who are arrested and charged with violent acts, and instead of getting its tentacles out of the way and moving mountains in order to boost teams owned by its favored oligarchs, and in particular Ivan Savvidis and PAOK, under the guise of “catharsis” and “rooting out corruption.”

Instead of doing any of the above, SYRIZA has payed lip service to fighting violence and corruption, has put Greek football at grave risk (never before had Greek teams faced expulsion from international competition before the SYRIZA-led government came to town), and has continuously turned a blind eye to both corruption and violence when it has involved its favorite oligarchs.

Furthermore, it has quite knowingly and purposefully played upon the emotions of Greek football fans, and particularly the fans of AEK and PAOK, who have long felt “cheated” at the hands of perennial Greek champion Olympiacos. Fans of these teams have often become the most vocal supporters of, say, a Greek football “Grexit,” as their hatred of Olympiacos and the supposed “establishment” is so great and so deeply rooted that they are openly willing to cut of their nose to spite their face. As with the numerous other schisms in Greek society which have become increasingly apparent during the years of the crisis, such as the divide between employees in the public and private sector, or the division between the political “left” and the political “right,” one understands how such divide-and-conquer strategies play into the government’s hands.

These concerns were reflected in the positions adopted by AEK and Olympiacos in the aftermath of Sunday’s incident and the subsequent suspension of Greek league play. In a statement released Monday, AEK’s management openly questioned whether this time around, justice will serve or if “negotiations” will take place once again. Meanwhile, in a statement issued by the management of Olympiacos, the postponement of Super League matches was characterized as “serving only the interests of those who delivered irregularity and lawlessness to Greek football.”

However, these concerns are likely to fall on deaf ears. In “radical leftist” SYRIZA’s Greece, one can lose their home for a debt of 1000 euros to the Greek state, “unlicensed” chestnut vendors are arrested and jailed, and Greek soldiers are left to languish in Turkish prisons with no apparent diplomatic effort to secure their release, while maniacal gun-toting oligarchs do as they please — including owning television stations, newspapers, and most likely, the government itself.

 

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