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Violence-ridden Greek football in danger of ‘Grexit’: FIFA

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Chairman of the FIFA monitoring committee for the Hellenic Football Federation Herbert Huebel talks during a news conference in Athens, at the Hellenic Football Federation premises in Athens on March 14, 2018. World football body FIFA on Wednesday said Greece’s violence-ridden championship was on the “edge of a cliff” and Greek clubs faced exclusion from international competition unless authorities took rapid action. / AFP PHOTO / LOUISA GOULIAMAKI

World football body FIFA on Wednesday said Greece’s violence-ridden championship was on the “edge of a cliff” and Greek clubs faced exclusion from international competition unless authorities took rapid action.

“This behaviour has pushed us to come here to make recommendations,” Herbert Hubel, head of the FIFA committee set up last July to monitor the Greek football federation, told a news conference after emergency meetings with Greek officials.

“The Grexit that looked distant is no longer impossible. Greek football reached the edge of the cliff,” Hubel said.

Just last month, the government had banned fans from the four most powerful clubs — Olympiakos, Panathinaikos, AEK and PAOK — from attending away games because of recurring violence.

A few days later, 58 people were handed mostly suspended sentences of 30 months to 10 years in prison for their involvement in a 2011 match-fixing scandal, including a former Greece international punished for illegal betting, an active club chief and two more former club presidents.

The government announced an indefinite suspension of the top-flight league’s matches on Monday. Greek football federation chief Vangelis Grammenos said they would not resume for at least another week, pending proposals by clubs on curbing the unrest.

“By March 23 there will be written pledges from all responsible parties to end violence in and outside stadiums and safeguard security,” Grammenos told the news conference.

Greek football has perennially been plagued by violence and match-fixing, but a fresh crisis erupted Sunday after the owner of championship contenders PAOK stormed the pitch with a holstered gun at his belt.

Greek-Russian businessman Ivan Savvidis apologised on Tuesday, but his club faces penalties including relegation after a sports prosecutor requested disciplinary action over the incident.

Savvidis himself, who is widely seen as an ally of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, faces a stadium ban of three to five years in addition to a fine of at least 50,000 euros ($62,000).

Flanked by bodyguards, Savvidis stormed onto the field in the 90th minute after a goal that would have given PAOK victory in the top-of-the-table clash was disallowed for offside.

Police were unable to locate him on Monday after a 24-hour warrant was issued for his arrest for the pitch invasion.

Once the warrant had expired, a photo of him emerged alongside a group of PAOK players, sitting at the lobby of a luxury hotel owned by Savvidis.

FIFA’s Hubel on Wednesday said there had to be “a promise that all stakeholders lay down their arms, there is no place for violence.”

“The aim of the game is to win, but not by force with arms, threats and blackmail,” Hubel said.

Hubel met earlier Wednesday with deputy minister of sport Yiorgos Vassiliadis and Greek federation president Evangelos Grammenos to be briefed on the situation.

Tsipras has staked his political capital on resolving the crisis, insisting he would disregard any “political cost” to restore order to the league.

But Savvidis’ antics have put pressure on the leftist PM, who is accused by rivals of allowing Savvidis to continue a rapid rise in the Greek business world in return for political support and help with privatisations.


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