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Greece threatened with expulsion from international football competitions

This is the end result of the SYRIZA-led government’s purported efforts to “clean up” Greek football

SYRIZA may finally be achieving “Grexit.” Not the one, of course, that we were laughably led to believe it once supported in its days as a “radical anti-austerity” party, but which it always intended to eschew in the name of “Europe.” Instead, the “Grexit” coming to Greece may be of the football variety.

Following a recent spate of incidents in Greek football, topped off by the owner of PAOK FC Ivan Savvidis storming the football pitch while fully armed following a controversial call, the head of FIFA’s monitoring committee Herbert Huebel has formally recommended to FIFA Greece’s ejection from all international football competitions.

What this means is that Greek club teams as well as Greek national teams would be barred from participating in international competitions such as the qualifiers for the Euro 2020 competition, the UEFA Nations League, the UEFA Champions League, and the UEFA Europa League. Greece’s national men’s football team did not qualify for this summer’s World Cup in Russia.

The only possible saving grace for Greece is that Huebel’s recommendation leaves a period of approximately six weeks for the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) to enforce the measures that have been recommended by FIFA, in order to avert a football “Grexit,” even at the last minute. This is because the recommendations have been passed on to FIFA’s members committee, which is slated to meet in late May or June, instead of to FIFA’s emergency committee, which would issue an immediate decision.

Huebel’s document highlighted various concerns which he used to justify his recommendation for Greece’s expulsion. These include the delays in the issuance of disciplinary decisions regarding Greek football matches, the lack of implementation of FIFA recommendations, and the likelihood that the champion of this season’s Super League will be determined in the courtroom and not on the playing field.

Huebel’s document also makes specific references to PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis storming the football pitch wielding a gun, the postponements of the Greek Super League and Greek Cup imposed by the SYRIZA-led government, and the ejection of PAOK from the European Club Association (ECA) following the aforementioned incident involving Savvidis.

The issuance of these recommendations comes following a meeting he had with the president of EPO Vangelis Grammenos in Austria earlier this week.

The risk of “Grexit” comes after a series of absurd moves on the part of the SYRIZA-led government, which as with every other aspect of society, is proclaiming that it is “rooting out corruption” in Greek football as well. These claims, of course, do not reflect reality, but are great fodder for SYRIZA’s party faithful and the “fans,” blinded by fanaticism, of teams such as PAOK and AEK, whose owners are widely recognized as being very close to the SYRIZA-led government.

Following the PAOK-AEK match and the incident involving an armed, unhinged Ivan Savvidis, the SYRIZA-led Greek government imposed a temporary postponement of league and cup matches, something which has become routine for the current regime. Similar postponements were enacted in 2015, 2016 and 2017, all in the name of “combating violence” in Greek football.

It seems though that for SYRIZA, some violence is not as bad as other violence. Today, a ruling regarding the events of the PAOK-AEK match where Savvidis stormed the football pitch resulted in a three year ban for Ivan Savvidis from entering football stadiums, a monetary fine of €15,000, a fine of €63,000 for PAOK, and the loss of three points in this season’s league table and two points next season.

The fine and loss of three points this season and two points next year is the same exact penalty which was levied against Panathinaikos in 2017 for an incident where a fan tossed a can of beer at the pitch, striking an opposing player.

In other words, in SYRIZA’s Greece, throwing a beer bottle and storming the pitch wielding a gun are met with the same exact penalty. There’s no arrest or jail sentence for Savvidis, nor was PAOK demoted to the Football League, the second category in Greek football, as foreseen by the very same law passed by SYRIZA — with FIFA’s approval — professing to “clean up” football.

Earlier this season, Olympiacos was docked three points for an incident where fans (but not the team owner) stormed the pitch following a home loss — with questionable officiating — against AEK. In other words, some fans coming onto the pitch is the same as a team owner chasing a referee with a weapon. In two other incidents, PAOK fans fought with police and other fans and attempted to storm stadiums in the cities of Ioannina and Tripolis. PAOK was not docked any points in the league table for these incidents.

In last season’s league cup final between PAOK and AEK, “fans” of the two teams rioted both inside and outside the neutral Panthessalian Stadium in the city of Volos, causing major injuries and damage to the facilities. Neither team was docked points for these incidents, by the government that is otherwise “policing” Greek football.

The name of the game though seems to be to strike perennial Greek champion Olympiacos and its owner, Evangelos Marinakis, who has also been embroiled in scandal but was recently acquitted on charges of participating in a criminal organization. Marinakis is viewed by SYRIZA as being close with the opposition New Democracy party, and is viewed by the fans of teams such as PAOK and AEK as being the epitome of all of the ills in Greek football due to the dominance of Olympiacos in the past two decades. SYRIZA has done nothing to bridge this division, and in fact it seems to be actively fanning the flames, counting on support from what it sees as a bloc of voters who oppose Olympiacos and Marinakis.

For fans of teams such as PAOK, based in Thessaloniki, there is a long-standing inferiority complex vis-à-vis the supposed “Athens-centric establishment.” For them, Ivan Savvidis, who “rescued” PAOK from bankruptcy a few seasons ago, is a savior who could do no wrong. We are told he has invested over €100 million in PAOK, that he will build the team a new stadium, that he has “stood up to the establishment.”

Even more ludicrously, we are told that he “saved Thessaloniki’s port from the Turks” (for participating in a consortium of mostly foreign investors, including German and Chinese, which purchased the harbor as part of SYRIZA’s privatization program which it had once pledged to stop) and that he “saved” the SEKAP tobacco industry in northern Greece from Turkish hands. The way Savvidis “saved” SEKAP was by initially purchasing the debt-ridden company, then blackmailing the government with threats to abandon the investment if the company’s debts to the state were not written off, then selling the now debt-free SEKAP to a company owned by the Japanese state.

It’s okay though, for Savvidis can do no wrong in the eyes of his army of supporters, or for the SYRIZA-led government. And returning to the matter at hand, it is clear that FIFA is not impressed. It is an open secret among football fans in Greece that EPO is a PAOK and AEK stronghold, following changes, or according to SYRIZA “catharsis,” imposed by the government last season. The message FIFA seems to be sending to EPO is to clean up their act or for Greek football to pay the ultimate price.

And what would this ultimate price be? The consequences would be disastrous for Greek football and, by extension, the Greek economy, at a time when despite the proclamations of SYRIZA regarding imminent “recovery,” the economy needs all the help it can get. Potential consequences include:

  • The inability of Greek club teams and national teams to participate in any international competitions, including exhibition matches.
  • The inability of Greek footballers to play for club teams outside of Greece.
  • The inability of foreign players to compete with Greek club teams.
  • The loss of massive income from Greek club teams’ participation in European competitions such as the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League, including television revenue, sponsorships, and bonuses tied to team performance.
  • Greece being dropped to zero in the national team and club coefficients used by FIFA and UEFA to determine the relative strength of each country’s national team and club competitions. At the club level, the performance of a country’s club teams improves the country’s overall standing — the better the coefficient, the more teams from that country are permitted to compete in European competition such as the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. At the national team level, the better the coefficient, the higher the national team is ranked, meaning that it will receive theoretically more favorable draws for participation in the World Cup, the Euro cup, the Nations Cup, and the qualifiers for these tournaments. Following a potential Greek suspension, Greece would find itself starting with a coefficient of zero, which would mean the hardest, most challenging possible draws for both Greek club teams and the national team.
  • The loss of ancillary revenues, such as income from foreign teams and their fans visiting Greece for club and national team matches.
  • The total delegitimizing of the Greek football league, which would likely resemble an amateur football league much more than a professional league — one where no foreign players will compete, where revenues will be low, and international interest non-existent.

Of course, with the self-loathing and divide-and-conquer mentality that is so unfortunately prevalent in Greece today, fans who believe their teams have been “wronged,” such as PAOK and AEK, are only too happy to see a “Grexit” from international play, as they view this as being “what Greece deserves” for its “corruption” which, of course, they are not responsible for. Only Olympiacos is, clearly, and only its owner, Evangelos Marinakis.

Such attitudes are bolstered by Greece’s recklessly irresponsible and hideously biased sports journalists, all of whom seem to represent vested team interests and political interests as well, and who have for years created the impression that Greece is a hopeless basket case while touting how “civilized” athletics are in other “serious” countries. The high-level corruption in competitions such as the Olympics and the World Cup, and the more petty day-to-day incidents of biased refereeing or football riots between fans in other countries (even if they take place outside the stadium and not inside of it) are conveniently brushed off.

These outlets know, after all, who their audience is. For online sports portals in particular, it is angry and resentful young men, often unemployed or underemployed, and raised on a diet of being told, day after day, at school and from these very portals, that Greece is a backward banana republic and that other European countries are superior and civilized. These young men are probably also resentful that they were forced into military conscription in Greece. Largely apolitical, these men are nevertheless exposed to political propaganda via the “journalism” provided by these sports portals.

This mentality is epitomized by the following two examples:

  • A recent petition by PAOK fans which circulated online, stating that if PAOK is penalized for the recent incidents which took place in its home stadium, they will burn their military conscription papers and refuse to serve. This, of course, belies the gender and age group of most of the signatories of this “petition.”
  • An online poll that is active today on Sport24.gr — a portal operated by the PAOK-friendly 24 Media which is owned by Dimitris Maris, a former business partner of Ivan Savvidis — where 64 percent of “fans” have thus far voted in support of a Greek football Grexit.

There’s a saying for such people: “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” And in Greek society, where divide-and-conquer is the norm, the government is fanning the flames, using such divisions for its own petty interests and to boost its own favored oligarchs, all in the name of “routing the oligarchs” and “rooting out corruption.” But as is the case the world over, those screaming the loudest about “corruption” are usually the ones who are most blatantly guilty of it.

Opinions expressed are those of the author alone and may not reflect the opinions and viewpoints of Hellenic Insider, its publisher, its editors, or its staff, writers, and contributors.

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