OPINION

Disappointment

Cleaning up the murky business of Greek football is turning into a story of lost opportunities. The strict penalties imposed after the disgraceful episode at the Olympiakos-Panionos match in Nea Smyrni on January 9 led the overwhelming majority of the public – sports fans and others – to believe that the time had come for exemplary punishment and the onset of a thorough cleanup. Opinion polls and widely shared public sentiment supported this view. The ruling by the court of first instance showed that matters were heading in the right direction. The public breathed a sigh of relief – until yesterday, when the soccer appeals committee decided to quash the strict original ruling and let the two teams off lightly by clearing them of any responsibility and putting the blame on anonymous fans. The sports appeal judges’ decision to impose the most lenient legal penalty on the two teams disappoints public opinion, because it shows the timidity of the sports leadership and its unwillingness to take radical measures to combat violence and hooliganism at football grounds. Unfortunately, the wretched scene at New Smyrni was not a rare or isolated case. It is repeated every so often, at football grounds that have been renovated with money that comes primarily from the public purse, by a few vandals who act with the forbearance of clubs that also receive scandalous amounts of funding from the public coffers in order to service their debts and patch up their famously bad administration. Just the day before yesterday the PAO-AEK derby saw leading professionals throwing punches at each other on the playing field with complete impunity for themselves or their teams. Plainly, the joy of winning the Euro Cup last summer, a sporting celebration that thrilled all Greece, has evaporated. Local reality brings us down to empty stands, brawling players, supporters who torch stadiums, playing fields crammed with police officers, and clubs that not only enjoy impunity but are rewarded with debt relief and beneficial regulations. Sporting body judges perform their task as they see fit. This time it was deemed proper to make a good impression by issuing a strict ruling first and a compromise ruling later. However, the main responsibility lies in the hands of the political leadership. The disillusioned public sees what has occurred as vacillation and awaits a genuine cleanup of football. When will we see ordinary people, families and happy faces in the football stands again? We don’t need anymore lost opportunities.