Football: Greek league top-division games suspended after gun controversy over Paok boss

PAOK president Ivan Savvidis (centre) is escorted out after taking to the pitch carrying a handgun in his waistband, after the referee refused a last minute goal, on March 11, 2018.
PAOK president Ivan Savvidis (centre) is escorted out after taking to the pitch carrying a handgun in his waistband, after the referee refused a last minute goal, on March 11, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

ATHENS (AFP, REUTERS) - Greece's top-flight football championship was suspended indefinitely on Monday, a deputy minister said, hours after the owner of the Paok team invaded the pitch with a gun strapped to his belt.

"We have decided to suspend the championship," deputy minister for sport Yiorgos Vassiliadis told reporters after an emergency meeting with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

"It will not start again without a new framework agreed by all," he said, adding that the government was in close contact with European football governing body Uefa.

Police have issued a warrant for the arrest of Paok owner, Greek-Russian businessman Ivan Savvidis, after he invaded the pitch, accompanied by bodyguards, to confront the referee in protest at a 90th-minute disallowed goal in a top-of-the-table clash against AEK Athens.

The then goal-less match was interrupted as AEK's squad walked off the pitch. The goal was later allowed. Paok and AEK are in a neck-and-neck race for the league title.

A tobacco industrialist with extensive holdings in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, Savvidis recently also bought one of Greece's top newspapers, Ethnos. He is considered a political ally of Mr Tsipras.

Greek soccer fixtures are frequently marred by violence.

Two weeks ago, another match in Paok's Toumba stadium was marked by controversy after a cashier roll thrown from the stands hit Oscar Garcia, the coach of visiting rivals Olympiakos.

The match was abandoned and Paok were initially docked three points, but managed to overturn the decision on appeal.

Images of "persons entering sports grounds armed" harm Paok and soccer in general, Mr Vassiliadis said earlier in a written statement.

"Such extreme phenomena call for bold decisions," he had said, without elaborating.

Savvidis, one of Greece's richest men, was born in Georgia of Greek heritage and is a former member of the Russian parliament. He has holdings in assets ranging from Thessaloniki port to tobacco and media companies.

The authorities say that they are committed to cleaning up the sport.