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Soccer league suspended as police seek gun-carrying PAOK boss

TAGS: Soccer, Politics, Crime

In the aftermath of Sunday’s soccer match between PAOK and AEK, during which the former’s president stormed the pitch with a gun, the government was forced to take action on Monday by indefinitely suspending Greek Super League fixtures.

The decision was taken during a meeting between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Deputy Sports Minister Giorgos Vassiliadis, and was deemed necessary to send out a message that the violence and corruption that has marred the game’s image in Greece for so many years will no longer be tolerated.

“I don’t care about the political cost. This issue must end and everybody responsible will be held accountable,” Tsipras reportedly said during the Monday meeting to discuss the government’s course of action.

For his part, Vassiliadis told reporters that a new set of stricter rules will be enforced “after spending three years trying to clean up the game.” He added, “We will not allow anybody to deter us from this path, even if tough decisions are required in consultation with UEFA [European’s soccer’s governing body].”

The match was interrupted in the 89th minute when PAOK president Ivan Savvidis stormed the pitch, accompanied by his bodyguards and carrying a pistol in a holster on his hip, to remonstrate with the referee who disallowed a goal by his team when the score was 0-0.

The incident triggered a hail of criticism against the government from the opposition for doing nothing to clean up the game, which has for years been dogged by violence and speculation that it is governed by vested interests.

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is currently on a tour of the US, said yesterday that the government had repeatedly pledged to tackle the shortcomings of the league but has done nothing.

Sunday’s images, he said, were tragic and took the country back many years.

The center-left Movement for Change said the coalition’s promises to clean up soccer were nothing but a smokescreen to allow vested interests to continue corrupting the game.

Meanwhile, police on Monday were still looking for Savvidis, who disappeared after the incident. Savvidis, a Georgian-born businessman of Greek ancestry and a former member of the Russian parliament, has holdings in Thessaloniki port, the tobacco industry and media companies.

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