Fearing reactions in northern Greece that would divide the country between north and south, the government on Tuesday announced an amendment that would ensure that northern clubs PAOK Thessaloniki and Xanthi are not relegated due to a breach of Super League rules which forbids two clubs from having common ownership.
The Professional Sports Commission ruled on Monday that the two clubs are in violation of Super League rules by having the same owner and recommended their relegation, drawing the ire of thousands of fans of the two northern Greek clubs.
“After a decision by the prime minister, a legislative initiative is immediately being undertaken so that the debilitating penalties are not imposed regarding matters such as the one the Professional Sports Commission ruled on,” said government spokesman Stelios Petsas, referring to the decision by the government, which was seen to be backing down in the face of a backlash in northern Greece.
Already on Tuesday, PAOK fan clubs had issued scathing announcements against the government. Petsas justified the government's initiative by saying that its intention was to preempt further polarization.
“At a time when the country is taking a leap forward, overcoming divisive dilemmas of the past, it does not have the luxury of being able to be divided by soccer,” he said, adding that the government will not allow a soccer issue to threaten the country's social cohesion which was tested so much during the crisis years.
At the same time, in an attempt to head off criticism that its decision smacked of favoritism toward PAOK, Petsas announced the expulsion of European Parliament member and former Greek soccer star Theodoros Zagorakis from New Democracy's parliamentary group, saying the “government cannot be blackmailed.”
The former international midfielder – who played for PAOK for two stints, among other clubs, and is best known for his role as captain of the squad that won the European Championship in 2004 – threatened on Monday to resign from the conservative party if the commission’s recommendation is upheld.
The committee's recommendation was vehemently opposed by prominent politicians in northern Greece, including Thessaloniki Mayor Konstantinos Zervas, who described it as a blow to the city.