Tougher laws to combat soccer hooliganism

The government has reacted to the fallout from the fractious soccer match between Olympiakos and Panathinaikos on Saturday by saying that it is preparing legislation that will impose tougher sanctions on anyone involved in violence at sports grounds.

The Culture Ministry said on Monday that the draft law would be put to public consultation next month. Sources said that the bill would seek to ensure that anyone suspected of pre-arranging violent clashes would be charged with committing a felony. Penalties for other hooligan activities would also be made stiffer. The government will also attempt to exercise greater control over supporters? clubs.

The move was prompted by a pitch invasion at Olympiakos?s stadium at the end of its controversial game against fierce rival Panathinaikos. Several of the visiting players were attacked and this was followed by physical and verbal exchanges in the locker rooms.

This will not be the first time that a Greek government has reacted to sports-related violence by attempting to tighten up legislation. The last time was in 2007, when the then Conservative government reacted to the killing of a Panathinaikos fan during a mass brawl by introducing new legislation. Violence and lawlessness, however, continue to be mainstays of Greek sport, soccer in particular.

Olympiakos owner Vangelis Marinakis, who had initially denied that his team?s fans had done anything wrong, apologized for his post-match comments and said that he wanted to hold talks with Panathinaikos officials in a bid to smooth things over.

Panathinaikos rejected his offer, saying that it would only discuss matters through the sport?s bodies, in this case the board of the Super League, which is responsible for organizing top-flight soccer in Greece. Marinakis is currently the league?s president.

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