A north-south rift feared over abandoned soccer match


Divisions in the coalition over last Sunday’s abandoned soccer league game between AEK Athens and Thessaloniki’s PAOK were highlighted in Parliament on Thursday, amid speculation that the issue could also lead to a divide between the country’s north and south.

Although the government has sought to downplay the backlash from Sunday, when PAOK president Ivan Savvidis stormed the pitch with a holstered gun, several lawmakers from Thessaloniki and from junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL) expressed support for the Greek-Russian businessman and for the popular northern club.

Many PAOK officials and supporters, as well as other clubs, have long claimed that the “Athens establishment” calls the shots at their expense.

A sports prosecutor on Wednesday took action against Savvidis, who faces a fine of at least 50,000 euros and a stadium ban of three to five years, while PAOK is also expected to face strict disciplinary action.

But several MPs fear that coming down hard on PAOK could push the people of Thessaloniki to rally behind the team against the powers that be in Athens. Savvidis himself said on Monday that he was angered by the “sick establishment.”

The point was made in Parliament by ANEL lawmaker Giorgos Lazaridis, who, aiming his fire at Deputy Sports Minister Giorgos Vassiliadis, warned that a “national division” in the country is in the making due to government policies which favor clubs from Athens. He accused Vassiliadis of being biased against northern clubs, adding that government policies “are dividing Greece.”

For his part, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said that perceptions of a north-south divide are “nothing new” and that it is something that has been cultivated for decades by past governments which “paid far more attention to Athens than northern Greece.”

“We treat all Greek citizens as equals,” he told reporters.

On the other hand, however, other politicians have also backed media speculation that the government is favorably predisposed toward Savvidis.

Speaking to Skai TV on Thursday, ANEL’s Thanasis Papachristopoulos backed the assertion, saying that, in his opinion, “Savvidis had friendly relations with the government.”

Tzanakopoulos was quick to refute the claim, insisting that the “government does not have friendly relations with any businessman.”