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When politics invades soccer

Yesterday’s incident-filled session of the Greek soccer federation’s (EPO) appeals commission is an indication of how difficult it is to implement the law in the face of populist pressure. The commission was scheduled to hear the appeal of soccer club Ioannina, which was relegated to the second division after it had 65 points deducted for debts, mostly to former players (the initial penalty was a 90-point deduction, but some cases were settled). In the end, it was decided it would reconvene today. The relegation of Ioannina, the best team in the province of Epirus, led town residents to block highways last month. This time, Ioannina fans chased the president of Ionikos soccer club Panayiotis Kanellakis, who escaped a beating after a timely intervention by police. Ionikos was the club which took advantage of Ioannina’s punishment and secured a first-division berth after a playoff game with Kalamaria, the second division’s third-place team, last season. Besides the fans chasing Kanellakis, Ioannina prefect Alekos Kachrimanis was seen exchanging kicks with Ionikos manager Manolis Tsachilidis. Kachrimanis was not the only elected official from Ioannina to attend in order to put pressure to the commission. All five deputies from the Ioannina prefecture attended, in a rare display of all-party harmony. The leader of Democratic Social Movement, Dimitris Tsovolas, who hails from the nearby Arta prefecture, was also there. Tsovolas, a former MP and finance minister and a lawyer, claimed to represent seven former Ioannina players who allegedly claimed they were not owed any money. Tsovolas’s pitch was one often heard when authorities finally decide to apply the law: «Other teams have been in the same situation and not punished,» he said. His comments echo those of Thanassis Kanellopoulos, president of EPAE, the association of professional soccer clubs, who visited the president of the Professional Sports Commission, Constantine Papalakis, to plead for a delay in the clubs’ submission of financial statements that will determine whether they will be able to play professional soccer next season. «We say yes to the application of the law, but the clubs must be given time to conform to its clauses. When the law was not faithfully applied for so many years and there was a general tolerance, we cannot resolve everything in six months’ time,» Kanellopoulos said. Papalakis, a Supreme Court judge, was unimpressed.