NEWS

Violence freezes soccer funding

Greece’s soccer clubs, the country’s soccer federation and the organizers of its top league are to lose some 40 million euros in annual state sponsorship because the government is unhappy about the level of violence within stadiums, it emerged yesterday. During a news conference, the government’s general secretary for sports, Panayiotis Bitaxis, said that funding through the state-owned gambling company OPAP would be suspended following a spate of violent incidents at soccer grounds. «Greek citizens are feeling enraged and frustrated at having to watch championships that lack credibility and where the law of the jungle and blind violence rule,» Bitaxis said. The government had attempted to combat hooliganism by banning fans from traveling to their teams’ away matches away but supporters and clubs have found a way around the rules in recent weeks, resulting in clashes between rivals fans and riot police at Aris’s Greek Cup game in Kavala last week and before Panathinaikos’s Super League match at Atromitos in Athens on Sunday. «The state has attempted to stop this decline through a discussion with all the relevant bodies, including organized supporters’ clubs,» said Bitaxis. «Unfortunately, the gentlemen’s agreements we reached have fallen apart due to the recent serious incidents.» Bitaxis said that OPAP pays 23 million euros in sponsorship to the Super League each year. Another 9 million goes to the second and third divisions, 3 million to the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) and 5 million is paid through various individual deals. Bitaxis said that the government would not release any funds until it is convinced that games can take place without any violence in the stands. OPAP’s sponsorship of the Greece national team will not be affected by the government’s freeze on funding.