Greece football boss against league shutdown

LONDON • Greece's top football division, the Superleague, yesterday opposed the suspension of all domestic fixtures over crowd trouble, saying it threatened the clubs' very existence.

Matches were halted indefinitely after Paok Salonika owner Ivan Savvides, a former member of State Duma, Russia's lower house of the federal assembly, was filmed wearing a gun holster as he strode onto the pitch to protest a disallowed goal against AEK Athens on Sunday.

Savvides, who is considered a political ally of Greece Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, controls the top hotel in the port city of Thessaloniki and is the owner of Greek daily Ethnos.

"The suspension does not bring anything," Superleague president Giorgos Stratos said after meeting Greece Deputy Culture and Sports Minister Georgios Vassiliadis.

"It creates a grave danger and we are possibly moving away from our aims and objectives... The suspension endangers the entire sport of football beyond the financial consequences."

Greek football has been plagued by claims of match-fixing, referee intimidation, pitch invasions and violence on and off the pitch, and authorities have repeatedly promised to reform the game.

However, attendances have dwindled and, this season, only four clubs in the 16-team top tier have posted average attendances of more than 5,000 spectators per league game.

The gun-toting incident represents another low for Greek football, with Vassiliadis admitting it had been an uphill task for the Greek government to "clean up the suffering football sector".

Greek police have issued an arrest warrant against Savvides and five people who accompanied him, some of whom were his bodyguards.

The warrant accuses Savvides, who has a legal permit to carry a gun, of violating sports law by invading the field, though other factors that were at play will also be examined, according to Greek police spokesman Ioanna Rotziokou.

Savvides said in a statement: "I am very sorry over what happened. I clearly had no right to enter the field of play in this fashion."

It is also believed that Paok sports director Lubos Michel, a Slovak former Fifa referee, issued threats against Yiorgos Kominis, who refereed the AEK game.

Third-placed Paok, table-topping AEK and Olympiakos are in the league title race. While Stratos said he had asked for the "quickest possible resumption" of matches, no date has been decided yet.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NY TIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2018, with the headline 'Greece football boss against league shutdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe