AEK Athens soccer player Giorgos Katidis has insisted he is not a racist after celebrating a goal against Veria on Saturday by performing a Nazi salute that drew condemnation for colleagues and politicians.
Responding to heavy criticism after the Super League game, Katidis said he was unaware of the implications of his celebration.
“I despise fascism,” the player said via his Twitter account. “I would not have done it if I knew what something like this meant. I know what the consequences are and I would never have done it.
The midfielder moved to AEK last year from Aris Thessaloniki. He has represented Greece at Under-17 and Under-19 levels.
Reports suggested that Katidis was criticized by some of his teammates after the match and his coach Ewald Lienen said the 20-year-old was reduced to tears after seeing the media coverage of his celebration.
“He hasn’t got a clue about politics,” said the German coach. “That’s why we shouldn’t condemn him. Any footballer who knows about my past, where I’m from and my political beliefs would know that would know that such a gesture [on purpose] would lead to that being his last game for AEK.”
AEK won the game at the Olympic Stadium in Athens 2-1, a crucial victory in their bid to avoid relegation.
The result was overshadowed by Katidis’s gesture, which came on the same day that members of Thessaloniki’s Jewish community marked the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Jews from the northern city to Nazi extermination camps.
Democratic Left, a junior partner in Greece's coalition government, issued a statement condemning Katidis's salute. It questioned whether the player was aware that AEK was a club founded by refugees from Istanbul, or Constantinople as it was at the time.
"We await to see the reaction from AEK and Greek soccer authorities," said Democratic Left.
Golden Dawn, the far-right party that entered Parliament last summer, have defended the Nazi salute, which has been performed in public by some its MPs, including leader Nikos Michaloliakos, by claiming that it is an ancient Greek greeting.