First the good news. Thankfully hockey, baseball and American football have never proved popular in Greece. The practical nonexistence of these sports means that there are no championships, and so we are spared derbies involving archrivals in the south, in the north, in Thessaloniki, Crete, Thrace and so on.
The second bit of good news is that neither Olympiakos nor Panathinaikos have a handball team to speak of. This means that we are spared several matches a year, much to the benefit of our ailing healthcare system (as this means there are fewer casualties in the war between the rivals), our educational system (less cause for outbursts of violence within the student body) and our police force (which can focus instead on the job they are supposed to be doing, which goes without saying).
Now the bad news – if you can call something that happens every year, even every month, a surprise and therefore news. The outbreak of violence and the events that unfolded afterward at the Elliniko basketball arena during the Greek Cup Final between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos on Sunday were an extremely Greek phenomenon. They were typical because they had been foreseen, yet this in no way contributed to them being stopped or even curbed.
The captains of the two teams – Dimitris Diamantidis of Panathinaikos and Vassilis Spanoulis of Olympiakos – had warned of violence during their customary interviews before the game, where they would be battling for a cup in an arena empty of fans. They even said that “nothing will change whatever we say,” not as a statement of fatalism but as a matter of fact, a matter of knowledge gained from experience. They’ve both been in the business of sports for years and they know how the game is played on the sidelines of the arena.
Both team captains knew that the management of their teams would be distributing tickets to the organized clubs of hardcore fans and invitations to the “VIPs,” meaning individuals who stand out for their performance in the sport of inflammatory verbal vulgarity and gestures. They knew that as far as the magnitude of hooliganism goes, there is little difference between the VIPs and the hardcore fans other than that the former swear endlessly in order to pump the army of organized fans, while the army is quite pumped up on its own. Both sets are robots, acting on the following rule: “The fans are always right.”
Diamantidis and Spanoulis also knew that the sports press would continue to stoke the fires.
Last but not least, they knew that the Elliniko indoor arena may be closed off to the elements, but it is certainly not closed off to flares, knives and rocks from the beach nearby.
But whatever happens, Greece will always be the cradle of the athletic spirit and noble competition.