Greek soccer matches have become so violent that the country could be kicked out of international soccer competitions by FIFA, USA Today reports. Following a series of violent incidents, including a Russian team owner storming a field with a gun strapped to his waist after a referee disallowed his team’s goal, FIFA has deemed the situation “unacceptable.” Herbert Huebel, a FIFA representative, said that “Greek [soccer] is going to an edge” and added that suspending the country from international soccer is no longer impossible.
A match between PAOK Thessaloniki and AEK Athens on Sunday appears to have been the final match. PAOK owner, Russian businessman Ivan Savvidis—who has “strong business interest” in Greece—invaded the pitch after the referee disallowed his team’s last-minute goal, flanked by his bodyguards and with a holstered gun strapped to his waist. The Greek government has, as a result, suspended all league play indefinitely. League organizers, in turn, imposed disciplinary measures against both Savvidis and the team on Wednesday. As a result, PAOK could be docked points or even relegated; the owner faces a maximum five-year ban.
A public prosecutor has also initiated a judicial investigation into the incident. He plans to discover why police allegedly ignored police instructions to arrest Savvidis on the spot.
In addition to this incident, two people were taken to the hospital after a violent fight broke out at a local high school championship soccer game. Fourteen people were detained after fights erupted between members of the audience, who brought iron rods and wooden bats to the fight.
"We all love football but it's unbearable that people are scared to go to a stadium," Huebel said. "How can you bring children there when there are guns on the pitch?”
"The aim of the game is always to win, of course," Huebel added. "But it can't be forced by arms, by threats, or even by crime."
Of course, the Greek soccer federation has an express interest in clearing up the issue as quickly as possible and reinstating league play, as well as maintaining a good relationship with FIFA. The federation president, Evangelos Grammenos, pledged that league officials will begin working on a declaration against violence and have it ready by March 23; the government will then review its position on the league suspension.
"It was decided that professional soccer (officials) will commit in writing to a framework concerning violence inside and outside stadiums, and concerning stadium security," Grammenos said. "If the minister for sports finds these commitments satisfactory he will decide on whether to revoke his decision."
"The report will be serious," he added. "We don't know what the decisions by FIFA will be. There's a wide range which finally ends up at the FIFA Council. ... The jurisdiction of UEFA and FIFA can be a very strict one."
The Greek government, for its part, welcomed FIFA's involvement in the matter.
"We are ready to act with the vital and valuable contribution of FIFA, to put an end to actions that blacken the image of the sport and the country," government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said.