Jungle law or rule of law?

When the president of Athens soccer club AEK, Demis Nikolaidis, dared to publish photographs of AEK fans involved in violent clashes outside the home ground of opponents Livadia over a year ago, he was vilified as a traitor and an informer. Nikolaidis’s efforts to isolate the organized activities of fanatic supporters cost the AEK president dearly and did not lead to any positive developments. But last Thursday we witnessed the inevitable climax of an absurd situation which has been tolerated for years, both inside and outside the country’s soccer stadiums: the activities of organized gangs of fans. The tragic outcome, involving the brutal murder of a fan, had been anticipated by everyone except those who hypocritically continued to ignore the growing problem. The warning signs were there for all to see: On the one hand, clashes were becoming increasingly violent, while on the other, impunity had become something of an institution. The current government passed new, stricter legislation aimed at combating violence in soccer stadiums a couple of years ago. But immediately after its approval, everyone did all they could to circumvent it. The strongest opposition came from soccer club officials, who spruced up their image by renaming their union the «Super League» but failed to change their outlook. Their main concern was how to protect the companies that own soccer teams from the severe penalties foreseen in the new law. The state soccer authorities played the role of lookout for these enterprises. The relevant authorities have also been tolerating the violence of organized gangs inside soccer stadiums. Certainly the police know who the leaders are. The same applies to soccer club managers who effectively finance supporters’ clubs by giving them free tickets and other perks. The government last Friday announced ostensibly tougher measures for combating soccer violence. But experience has shown that the laws of the jungle and of vested interests are mightier than the rule of law. There have been countless examples of this, including the violent clashes that marred the soccer match between Greece and Turkey at the Karaiskaki Stadium late last month. But although match tickets are issued bearing supporters’ names, police did not use this information to track down the perpetrators. Those who were physically responsible for the death of the 22-year-old soccer fan last Thursday may be tracked down. But it is extremely doubtful that the moral instigators will be identified. If we are to avoid mourning any more victims, it is imperative that decisive steps are taken, rather than half measures. A good start would be the dissolution of supporters’ organizations or at least severing their links with soccer club managers.

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