Conflict of interests
As the leader of the opposition, current Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis had said that including Greek soccer matches in the Stoichima betting pools would be morally unacceptable. Karamanlis’s objections then give plenty of ammunition for those keen on criticizing New Democracy for inconsistency. But this issue is about politics. Changing course is not necessarily a crime – provided that the new direction corrects a previous error, or responds to changing circumstances. Sure, Karamanlis and his supporters do not believe they were wrong then. Back then, conservatives argued that Stoichima is managed and played on machinery provided by Socrates Kokkalis, a business magnate who also owns Olympiakos FC, one of Greece’s leading soccer clubs. This, they argued, was a conflict of interest. Since then, pragmatic concerns have changed New Democracy’s attitude. The government’s budgeted revenues from the privatization of state companies totals 1.6 billion euros. Most of that money is expected to come from selling a 17 percent share of OPAP, the state soccer pool and lottery company. The decision by the government to include Greek soccer matches in betting starting this September is aimed at raising profits. The Economy Ministry also hopes to sell OPAP shares at a better price. The pressing need for higher profits is understandable. But the moral and political conundrum is too big to ignore. The problem would be there even if Kokkalis owned a small provincial soccer club. Instead, he controls one of the most successful teams in the country. It is also an open secret that club owners, particularly of the big teams, greatly influence the course of Greek soccer. So even if Kokkalis keeps a clean record, the public could question any surprise results. But the beauty of soccer is all about the unexpected, the underdog defeating the powerhouse. If the government carries out its plan, it will deal a heavy blow to the credibility of soccer pools. For all these reasons, the government has to reassess the issue. If the administration sees no other way to increase profits, it must wait until the contract with Intralot expires in 2007. Otherwise, we will have to remind the government that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.