Greek soccer’s infinite chaos: how the most recent hope for change was misplaced

Petros Constantinus' family bakery after the bombing
Former referee Konstantinas says he was focused in assault

On the evening of 29 February 2012, a bomb exploded at a bakery within the south of Greece, blowing up store home windows and destroying a part of the store.

Fortunately the bakery was empty and there have been no casualties. However the proprietor, Petros Constantinus, was undoubtedly the goal of the assault.

Constantinus was the Greek referee within the nation’s high flight. When he was not on the pitch he may very well be present in his bakery – a household enterprise in his hometown of Kalamata on the Peloponnese peninsula. He loved the work. It was a approach of detaching himself from the violent world of Greek soccer. However that world caught him.

The bomb was positioned in his oven. Constantinus believes he is aware of who was accountable. A number of days earlier than he was refereeing a league recreation between Xanthi and Olympiakos, two males got here to see him.

“They insisted that Olympiakos needed to win the sport, they usually threatened me,” he says. “However I’ve by no means been a part of that system. I am unable to be purchased.”

Police investigated however no arrests had been made after the blast. Nobody has been blamed for the assault.

On the finish of that 2011–2012 season, Konstantinas retired as a referee. He later switched to politics and served as a Member of Parliament with the novel leftist Syriza Occasion from 2015 to 2019.

“After the explosion, I began to concern for my household,” he says. “I needed to ship my youngsters to cover. I by no means thought it might attain that degree.”

Virtually 10 years later, little or no has modified in Greek soccer. Intimidation and violence are common options of the nation’s premier sport.

In the identical month, on 1 February, a 19-year-old man was stabbed to dying exterior the grounds of Aris FC, allegedly by supporters of PAOK, who condemned the assault. The 2 groups are rivals within the northern Greek metropolis of Thessaloniki. A number of arrests have been made.

An extended, messy breakdown within the state of Greek soccer will be traced between these two violent occasions – and the most recent probability for actual change appears to have handed.

short presentation gray line

Many thought that Theodoros Zagorakis can be the one to unravel issues. Fashionable for his wonderful previous as captain of Greece’s Euro 2004 victory, he was elected president of the nation’s soccer affiliation in March 2021.

Describing his ambition to finish corruption, Zagorakis, who has been MEP since 2014, received by a vote of 66 out of 68. However the honeymoon lasted solely 165 days. The previous Leicester Metropolis midfielder introduced his resignation on 8 September, apparently disillusioned with the enormity of the duty forward of him, citing the “poisonous surroundings”.

Greece’s Euro 2004 victory has proved to be a flash within the pan, a mesmerizing hiatus in an in any other case ugly story. For the reason that 2000s, the nation’s soccer has been sinking decrease and decrease. Residence attendance is poor – the top-flight common is round 5,000 – and plenty of followers really feel alienated from what they’re watching. The standard has fallen on the pitch. One scandal after one other appears to be occurring off the pitch.

In 2003–04 there have been three golf equipment taking part in within the Champions League group stage – two of them as automated qualifiers. Now solely the Greek champions have entered, and must navigate two qualification rounds to achieve the group stage.

Olivier Capo, a former Birmingham and Wigan midfielder, performed for Levadiakos in Greece in 2013–14. He described Greek soccer as a “whole mafia” in an interview with the French soccer journal So Foot.

“All the things is corrupt,” he mentioned. “Sports activities are purchased with sports activities bets. These items would not occur anyplace else. UEFA ignores Greece. Some matches are performed till the 99th minute. The president has bodyguards – do you assume that is regular ?”

Capo claimed that match-fixers had intentionally requested him to get a crimson card in a recreation. He mentioned that when he refused, they threatened him and his household. He determined to interrupt his contract together with his membership in order that he might depart as quickly as potential.

Ivan Savidis storms the pitch with a gun in his holster
PAOK President Ivan Savidis arrives on the pitch with a holstered gun, after a rejected objective, in March 2018

A number of makes an attempt have been made to clear issues up.

The final main case got here to mild in 2015, led by prosecutor Aristidis Corres. His 173-page report particulars the alleged exercise of dozens of key characters who confronted prices of “initiating, taking part in and directing a legal group, fraud, legal extortion and tried corruption”. .

Correas investigated lots of the most senior and necessary figures in Greek soccer, utilizing phone tapping together with Greek intelligence providers to collect proof. He believed that he had uncovered a robust conspiracy that sought to manage the outcomes by the actions of corrupt referees.

Six years later in January 2021, 28 distinguished figures together with Olympiakos and Nottingham Forest president Evangelos Marinakis, a number of referees and several other members of the Greek FA had been acquitted of all prices.

In the meantime, because the court docket circumstances dragged on, the violence continued.

The 2014–15 season was suspended 3 times. A 46-year-old man, Kostas Katsoulis, was killed after followers clashed at a 3rd division match in Crete. The deputy chairman of the Central Referees Committee was attacked. Throughout a derby match between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos, goons attacked the pitch.

In March 2018, sad with a referee’s determination to disclaim a late profitable objective in a vital match towards AEK Athens, PAOK president Ivan Sevidis entered the pitch carrying a Holstad gun. The league was as soon as once more suspended. Savidis, a Greek-Russian tobacco magnate who served within the authorities as a member of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia occasion, apologized. He was fined and his group earned factors.

In December 2018, referee Thanasis Tzilos was attacked by 4 outlaw assailants within the city of Larissa, critically injuring him when he was pulled from his automobile and violently overwhelmed on the pinnacle and legs . The league was once more suspended because of the referee happening strike.

Simply earlier than the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, tensions escalated when Olympiakos accused the president of PAOK of proudly owning Xanthi FC, a number of breaking guidelines on possession. Savidis denied any wrongdoing however the PAOK was re-docked.

When threats of sanctions towards PAOK had been first talked about, 8,000 of his supporters gathered within the streets with a banner that learn: ‘Greece is break up in two.’

For Giorgos Vasiliadis, the previous deputy minister of sport who served between 2016 and 2019, that ominous message revealed a worryingly widespread drawback.

“In a rustic that has been in recession for 10 years, the place youth unemployment has reached 50%, violent reactions will develop,” he says.

“And these are expressed amongst soccer supporters, the place circumstances are proper, and the place manipulation is exercised by financial actors who’re fascinated by soccer as a product, not a sport.

“Making an attempt to repair Greek soccer is so dangerous that the federal government is contemplating the political value of any motion. Justice would not work on this nation. The answer can solely come from exterior.”

Each world and European governing our bodies FIFA and UEFA have intervened.

In 2011, a UEFA report detailing 41 league outcomes they believed had been uncertain from the 2009–10 season, set in movement. match fixing scandal The federal government’s then deputy tradition minister, Giorgos Nikitiadis, described it as “the darkest web page within the historical past of Greek soccer”. He mentioned the legal investigation can be “as deep and excessive as is critical”.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis talks with UEFA President Alessandre Ceferin in February 2020
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis assembly with UEFA President Alessandr Ceferin in Athens in February 2020

However, as would occur once more 10 years later, prosecutors had been disillusioned with the ultimate consequence. Of the 68 suspects named by judicial officers, just a few had been convicted on comparatively minor prices. Senior officers or membership homeowners who individually denied prices of fraud, extortion or cash laundering had been acquitted.

UEFA despatched particular representatives on a mission to wash up Greek soccer in 2016. However after 4 years within the nation, the delegation made no obvious progress regardless of the signing of a memorandum between UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The most recent replace got here on Tuesday with a joint letter from UEFA and FIFA asking the Greek FA to make sure rapid appointments to their most senior positions.

Petr Fosek, a former footballer who’s now the Czech FA president, was a type of who had been introduced in by UEFA six years in the past to Greece as an unbiased knowledgeable.

“It’s sophisticated due to the membership homeowners in Greece,” he mentioned. “There’s not a lot we will do, simply attempt to construct rapport, deliver them collectively and cut back the stress.

“However the greater drawback is the shortage of unity. With out unity, we can not obtain sure targets. With out unity, everybody tries to take energy.”

Georgios Antonopoulos, professor of criminology at Teesside College and member of the International Initiative Towards Transnational Organized Crime, says: “In Greece, changing into a profitable soccer membership president will not be the results of love or take care of the soccer membership. To strengthen the enterprise and political energy and leverage of the

Former referee Konstantinas couldn’t agree extra.

“Greek soccer is a hydra with many heads. You narrow one, the opposite emerges.”

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