NEWS

Panathinaikos stadium plans return to Goudi

The specter of Panathinaikos soccer club has returned to Goudi, and this time not at the initiative of the club but of Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos. In an openly pre-election move, Venizelos wanted to improve the government’s prospects by resuscitating what seemed to have been the long-forgotten issue of building a stadium for Panathinaikos on a site where the PASOK government had promised to build a metropolitan park of greenery and recreation. And this just two months before the elections, when Panathinaikos supporters are concerned about a new home ground for their team, as the other two big clubs in town, Olympiakos and AEK, have found homes for themselves. Forgetting that the town plan of Athens designates Goudi as the site for a metropolitan park, Venizelos described the area, in statements he made earlier this month in Thessaloniki, as the most suitable for the club’s ground and promised that he would settle the issue in the new year. Thus history repeats itself. A few years ago, Panathinaikos soccer club, then headed by Giorgos Vardinoyiannis, attempted to take over the park after leaving its own stadium on Alexandras Avenue. Although Costas Laliotis, then public works (YPEHODE) minister, initially supported the creation of the park that the PASOK government had promised in 1994, stating categorically that he would not permit a soccer arena to be built on the site, things changed after a few days and YPEHODE kept silent in public while holding discussions behind the scenes with Panathinaikos, which had its eye on the site. At that time, strenuous opposition from local residents and then mayor of Zografou, Fotini Sakellariou, blocked the matter, though it cost the mayor her re-election. But the government made a commitment years ago to create the park, which the city genuinely needs. The general objectives of a study by the National Technical University state that the park «will incorporate present uses into a large green park of high ecological quality with limited cultural, sporting and recreational uses.» The study also emphasizes the need for light use only. The stadium of a leading soccer club in no way meets these requirements. Moreover, Panathinaikos has already expressed its intention of bringing together under the same roof profit-making enterprises, such as stores, cinemas and gyms, which certainly are not in line with the site’s intended character. Just as alternative proposals for the Panathinaikos stadium led most people to think that the park had been saved – at least from the soccer club – along comes the culture minister to raise the issue again and to suggest the sacrifice of what is potentially the capital’s most important source of oxygen on the altar of what appears to be a desperate search for votes among the team’s followers. Sources say that at a meeting last Wednesday between Venizelos and Vardinoyiannis, the minister suggested that all of Panathinaikos, including its amateur teams, could be housed at Goudi in an attempt to bring the matter to a close as swiftly as possible. Strangest of all, the minister appears to believe that he can settle the agreement with Panathinaikos, secure the consent of the joint authorities and introduce a bill to Parliament between now and the dissolution of Parliament on February 7, a month before the elections. All of which strengthens the impression that this is a just a pre-election trick. Perhaps that is why the administration of Panathinaikos seems so hesitant.