Kicking the habit

Tomorrow’s showdown between Olympiakos Piraeus and Panathinaikos Athens is crucial as its outcome is likely to decide Greece’s soccer championship – and not only. This would explain some of the tension that has imbued fans and club officials. But however much understanding one can feel for their fervor, it must be acknowledged that the situation has overstepped the legitimate bounds of toleration set by every decent state. All that we have been seeing these days, in view of Sunday’s big match, is nothing but the culmination of the unacceptable state of Greece’s professional soccer. The atmosphere is more than tense. Warlike is the word. Much of the blame rests with the two clubs’ administrations – particularly with Olympiakos’s strongman Socrates Kokkalis, who has repeatedly poured oil on the flames, with remarks befitting hooligans rather than a big businessman and president of a historical team. Kokkalis would have been prosecuted in a law-abiding society. Yet, the Greek State is being tolerant. It is merely taking measures to avert violent episodes and protect public order. For this reason, 3,000 police and two prosecutors will be mobilized. These measures have now become indispensable, but do not constitute a solution to the problem. Olympiakos is eager to win and reach a seventh consecutive championship and avoid playoffs for Europe’s Champions League. Even a draw would most likely enable Panathinaikos to end their rivals’ six-season title streak. These ambitions are indisputably legitimate. So are the efforts of the two chairmen to seek what is best for their teams. However, offering a 2-million-euro victory bonus for one match is going too far. And as if this were not enough, Kokkalis has doubled the cash carrot. And all this is taking place when the club owners have repeatedly demanded that the State offer them other outrageous privileges. The situation in professional soccer has come to a head. We have reached the point of tolerating the efforts of various circles to turn a soccer match into a politico-economic clash. It is indicative of the situation that no state representative will dare attend tomorrow’s game, having all succumbed to the terrorism wielded by a group of fanatical cat’s paws. The point is not only to avoid violence. The State has to root out the causes of these phenomena.