Football: Greek govt vows to clean up violence-tarred local game after PAOK owner marches onto pitch with gun

Owner of PAOK Salonika, Ivan Savvides (centre), with a gun in a holster, enters the pitch after the referee annulled a goal of PAOK during their soccer match against AEK Athens in Toumba Stadium in Thessaloniki, Greece, on March 11, 2018.
Owner of PAOK Salonika, Ivan Savvides (centre), with a gun in a holster, enters the pitch after the referee annulled a goal of PAOK during their soccer match against AEK Athens in Toumba Stadium in Thessaloniki, Greece, on March 11, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

ATHENS (AFP) - Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says he is "determined" to enforce order in the country's oft-chaotic football scene, which has repeatedly been marred by violence on and off the pitch.

"We must all decide to ignore the political cost...It's a question of will. Personally, I am determined to go ahead," he said ahead of a meeting with a rival party leader.

Greece's top-flight football championship was suspended indefinitely on Monday, hours after the owner of the PAOK team invaded the pitch with a gun strapped to his belt.

The country's deputy minister for sport, Yiorgos Vassiliadis, had earlier told reporters after an emergency meeting with Tsipras that the Superleague championship would "not start again without a new framework agreed by all".

Mr Vassiliadis said the government was in close contact with European football body Uefa, which he said had been "shocked" by the incident.

Police have issued a warrant for the arrest of PAOK owner, Greek-Russian businessman Ivan Savvidis, after he stormed the pitch on Sunday, 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.

PAOK sports director Lubos Michel, a Slovak former Fifa referee, is also believed to have threatened referee Yiorgos Kominis.

The match was interrupted as AEK's squad walked off the pitch. The goal was later allowed.

Mr Vassiliadis said the government had "fought to clean up" Greek football for three years "and would not allow all this effort to be threatened".

"We await proposals from the federation and the league," he said. "A tougher framework is needed."

He did not rule out the prospect of Greek clubs sitting out next season's European matches, but insisted the national team would not be affected.

PAOK and AEK are in a neck-and-neck race for the league title, which would be their first in over 24 years. Olympiakos have won the last seven championships under the ownership of Greek shipowner Vangelis Marinakis, who, like Savvidis, is one of Greece's most prominent businessmen.

The league suspension is the latest stopgap measure adopted by the Tsipras government to maintain order in a championship spiralling out of control.

Less than a month ago, fans of the four most popular clubs - AEK, PAOK, Olympiakos and Panathinaikos - were banned from away games after recurring violence.

This was after Olympiakos fans clashed with police on Feb 4 after a shock home defeat by AEK dealt a serious blow to their title defence.

Yet a few weeks later, another match in PAOK's Toumba stadium had to be abandoned after a cashier roll thrown from the stands hit the Olympiakos skipper.

PAOK were initially docked three points, but managed to overturn the decision on appeal.