OPINION

A chance to score

A growing number of Greece’s soccer clubs, including the bigger teams such as PAOK, AEK and Aris as well as many of the smaller ones in the first division, are in dire economic straits. The government decision to finally put the brakes on the soccer clubs’ provocative and scandalous subsidization came close to bursting the bubble of the Greek soccer industry. A plethora of indescribable club owners have squandered billions of drachmas, mostly state subsidies, causing the virtual or real prices for and salaries of even medium-caliber soccer players to skyrocket and fueling the black economy. What is worse, club owners have done so without the slightest respect for their customers – the fans, that is: There have been no measures to clamp down on persistent soccer violence, corrupt referees, poor play or ruthless profiteering from excessive ticket prices. The result is that while Panathinaikos and Olympiakos once packed the Olympic Stadium with 70,000-75,000 people in their major European matches, we have reached a point where AEK only hosted a 8,000-strong crowd against Maccabi Haifa. And this does not take into account the lack of investment in infrastructure, or in youth academies training players who could then be sold to European teams on lavish contracts. It is schizophrenic that Greece is ranked among the soccer giants of the continent, in sixth place among 50 UEFA countries, when more than half of the top-division clubs are mired in economic problems or directly threatened with economic collapse. The irony is that Greek teams now have an unprecedented opportunity not only to make a strong showing in Europe but to also make a fortune from European soccer competitions. Occupying the sixth place allows Greece to have three representatives in the Champions League, where qualification for each phase is rewarded with billions from broadcasting rights. Moreover, four Greek clubs will compete for the UEFA Cup. Hence, half of the Greek teams in the first division will have an opportunity to participate in European soccer competitions and receive ample return. This is a test – at the business level as well. A potentially good performance will help these teams overcome their financial problems. It’s a healthy challenge that invites players and club owners to rise to the circumstances. Passing the test presupposes a break with the parasitical habit of draining state funds, otherwise taxpayers’ money.