From political activism to soccer ruffian warfare

News of the street battle between Olympiakos and Panathinaikos supporters on the sidelines of a women’s volleyball match came as no surprise, at least not to those who have long realized the situation surrounding the country’s team sports in recent years. Apart from the death of a young man and his family’s grief, what is particularly tragic about this incident is the reaction from the two main political parties, the ruling New Democracy and the main opposition PASOK. «This violence is unacceptable,» said PASOK leader George Papandreou. «These incidents have no place in sport; they have no place in the Greece of Olympic ideals and culture,» stated government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos. It is as if they have no idea at all about what has been going on in Greek sport; either that or else they are pretending not to know. The escalation of violence among soccer team supporters is in reverse proportion to the decrease in the size of political party youth groups and of politically oriented youth groups in general. For several years after the fall of the military junta in 1974, there were very few clubs of soccer team supporters – they were not regarded as «cool.» Back then in Thessaloniki, the PAOK team’s stadium in the Toumba district echoed to the cry «Toumba-Iran-Cambodia-Vietnam.» Gradually, as young people’s interest in political and social action waned, their enthusiasm turned to soccer. These supporters used to cheer their teams on, but the violence began to take extreme forms. Large quantities of drugs were traded at their clubhouses. Whenever arrests were made, small amounts of drugs were always found. Most of these youths, usually from the lower income groups, swelled the ranks of the lumpen proletariat. Team officials took good care of them, giving them free tickets, paying their travel expenses to games, creating television programs for their leaders to appear on and giving some of them jobs. A few years ago, one of the perpetrators of an ambush set up in Kallithea on the route to be taken by a bus carrying the Panathinaikos basketball team was an employee of Intracom (a firm owned by Olympiakos President Socrates Kokkalis). He was never convicted nor even penalized by his employer. Another cause of the violence is the hatred that has for many years been a tool of political and social conflict and which has found fertile ground in soccer rivalry. Now even the frustration expressed by student groups takes forms that seem incomprehensible to some. Supporters’ groups have developed into fighting units and are having their say as interlocutors with the state authorities. They stage sit-ins, hunger strikes, trade in votes and issue threats. And for the past 25 years, successive governments have done absolutely nothing. Therefore, they would do well, at the very least, to watch their words. [email protected]

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