Soccer hopes are raised

Sports Minister Giorgos Orfanos yesterday amended a proposed sports law, cutting off state funding to the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO), a day after soccer’s world governing body FIFA suspended Greece from international competition for allowing government interference in the running of the sport. The move fueled speculation that FIFA’s decision would be revoked, particularly in view of a statement by FIFA President Sepp Blatter earlier yesterday warning Greece to take the ruling seriously. «This should be an alarm for the Greek government. They have until July 15 to show that they are taking this sanction by FIFA seriously and they have to move quickly,» Blatter told a press conference in Berlin. A few hours later, the government tabled the amendment, allowing Greek sports federations to operate independently of Greek sports law, provided they forgo state funding. The bill is to be passed into law next week. «The Greek state has taken the necessary measures to ensure such problems will not arise in future,» government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros told reporters. Orfanos took the opportunity to criticize the country’s soccer federation with whose president, Vassilis Gagatsis, he has had numerous run-ins over the past two years. «EPO does not observe the laws of the land. We want more democratic voting rules – rules that apply to all other sporting federations in Greece. If it insists, state protection will be withdrawn,» Orfanos said. «We do not refute the laws of the state but we do reject interventions upon the self-administration of Greek soccer,» Gagatsis told a press conference in response. FIFA President Blatter made it clear that he was aware of a clash between EPO and the Greek government. «The suspension will be an alarm and I am sure it will be heeded because, in my opinion, this is more a clash of personalities than people acting in the bad interest of football,» Blatter said. EPO’s suspension was announced by FIFA’s emergency committee on Monday. If it is not lifted, European soccer champion Greece faces exclusion from international competitions.