OPINION

Commentary

While Prime Minister Costas Simitis and his aides huddled in the Maximos Mansion, planning Greece’s response to whatever call for help the United States would issue in its war on international terrorism, while the leaders of the main political parties took pains to show that Greece was serious in its commitments, while diplomats planned strategies to cope with the new world that burst upon us on September 11, our soccer fans had other plans. A couple of hundred diehard supporters of the AEK soccer club found a godsent opportunity at their team’s game against Hibernian of Edinburgh in Athens last Thursday to show what tough, take-no-prisoners types they are. During the minute’s silence to honor the thousands of victims of the terrorist strikes, called by the European soccer federation UEFA, they chanted anti-American slogans, booed and jeered, burned an Israeli flag and tried to burn the Stars and Stripes. At another time, this might have been ignored as primitive chest-beating that hooligans indulge in to cow their opponents. But this was a serious blow against Greece’s image in America and its credibility as an ally. The insult was printed and broadcast from coast to coast, enraging readers and listeners. Here was an ally whose citizens seemingly cared nothing for the terror victims. It mattered little that the culprits were a few youths who see enemies among everyone but their fellow fans, who owe allegiance to no one but their team. These are the fanatics (in every Greek team) who would cheer a Turkish team as long as it was beating their crosstown rival. They get away with such outrageous behavior because they have never been disciplined, especially not their teams’ officials who, despite paying lip service to the law, see the hooligans as occasionally useful shock troops – not least when teams demand that the government write off their monumental debts. The abdication of leadership by team owners, sports officials and society itself has forced true fans to flee the stadiums. And, by default, in this era of mass communications, it has made these brats our ambassadors.