This is Greece

This is Greece

The recent incident in Greek soccer is indeed didactic, leading to one general conclusion and several smaller related ones – all, alas, quite sad. The general conclusion is that the country has made little progress in terms of mentality in the 200 years that it has claimed to be an organized state.

It remains essentially ungovernable and the onus lies with the political class, but also with society. “This is Greece,” former prime minister Costas Simitis once said in a burst of self-awareness, giving voice to this general conclusion. Maybe the issue is genetic.

As for the smaller related conclusions to emerge from the government's decision to pass legislation on Wednesday that overturned a ruling by the independent Professional Sports Commission to relegate northern clubs PAOK and Xanthi due to the alleged infringement of ownership rules, here are the ones that stand out:

First of all, Greek soccer has been rotten to the core for decades. From the 1950s onward, it has been governed by vested interests that fix matches, engage in power games and do as they please while politicians turn a blind eye when they’re not actively participating. The difference today is that a lot more money is at stake and some of the owners involved are much more powerful, using the sport to benefit in other ways – and not just economically. More importantly, these new high-stakes players mix soccer with politics, and society either tolerates all this or even shields it.

At the same time, the state has allowed hooligans to evolve into organized groups that, depending on the circumstances, serve as any army defending the interests of whichever big-time owner runs their team, as a lever to exercise political pressure, as a tool of retribution against rivals or, quite often, as the visible face of organized crime. The above are supported by journalists and media that stoke fanaticism and vicious team loyalty.

It also shows us that, unfortunately, team owners, hooligans and blinded fans support politicians who meet club requirements. The reactions of various lawmakers to the recent incident in soccer and the fact that no one seemed to turn a hair at the threats against state unity heard on television and radio shows demonstrate that the situation has spiraled out of control and that impunity not only rules but is getting worse in Greece.

Last but not least, the government’s reaction justifies all of it. In its effort to deal with a thorny issue, it showed up its own and the system’s weaknesses, coming out the loser in every way. It got skittish and stepped back from enforcing the law, notwithstanding the fact that imposing the law would have led to worse problems.

Sports Minister Lefteris Avgenakis and government spokesman Stelios Petsas also made some very unfortunate comments that angered both camps that have formed over the issue. And as far as the new legislation itself is concerned, it leaves room for bias as it stipulates that offenders of the ownership laws will be stripped of between five and 10 points.

An ungovernable country, a state apparatus that is basically an idea, soccer lords, a rotten sports system, hooliganism, impunity, an indulgent society, a complicit political class and a cowed government: It all fits.

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