SPORTS

Desperate fund-raising effort to save Aris from relegation

The cash-strapped Aris soccer club, now seemingly just a step away from being relegated to amateur competition as a result of deep financial troubles, has launched a desperate fund-raising effort in its home city, Thessaloniki. Team officials expect that the sum of 600,000 euros would offer Aris reprieve and assure the club of its place in the first division next season. A group of former Aris officials, including Alketas Panagoulias – a former coach of the club who has also coached the Greek and US national teams – have reportedly gathered half the amount. The club, reports said, also intends to approach Dimitris Kontominas, a big-time Greek entrepreneur, for an injection of funds. Kontominas previously held shares in both Aris’s soccer and basketball divisions, but sold out after the investment did not live up to his expectations. Though the 600,000-euro figure being slated would offer short-term relief, club officials estimate that a total of 2 million euros is needed to bring back a semblance of order to Aris’s finances. All Greek clubs must meet a series of state-imposed financial criteria by today, or suffer relegation to amateur competition, as part of a government plan to stabilize professional soccer. Aris has asked for an extension from the newly assembled Professional Sports Committee, EEA, charged with assessing which teams are in good enough financial condition to remain professional. Aris, which owes players significant fees from the previous season and is also bogged down by other heavy debts, including outstanding tax obligations, seemed set for recovery last week when a Saudi Arabian investor took over the club. But, amid all the bedlam, the entrepreneur, Khalid Al Kasimi, resigned on Tuesday. Players had publicly criticized him for breaking promises to deliver outstanding fees linked to the club’s previous administration. «The team is in serious condition, and not even I know what might happen,» Aris’s coach, Giorgos Firos, told reporters yesterday after his side’s premature return from Austria, where the Saudi entrepreneur had arranged for the club’s pre-season training to take place. But after spending just several days in Salzburg, the Aris squad came back, following the Saudi Arabian entrepreneur’s shock departure. The players paid for the return tickets. Firos criticized Al Kasimi’s choice of training facility in Austria, which he described as totally unacceptable. «It wasn’t even a sports center. We hadn’t seen it because the foreign investors made the booking. We encountered great difficulties because there was no proper pitch. We were forced to go to a nearby paddock for a jog in the morning but its owner chased us away,» Firos said. «In the afternoons, we needed to travel for half an hour in order to train and the hotel’s prices were unaffordable for us. A bottle of water cost 5 euros and, as a team, we needed 100 bottles a day,» he added.