Sports chief expecting exemplary behavior

Under the strain of recent international pressure on Greek soccer for rowdy crowd behavior, the government’s top sporting official said yesterday that safety concerns were progressing smoothly ahead of Saturday’s encounter between the league’s front runner Olympiakos and second-placed archrival Panathinaikos, two points behind. At a news conference, Deputy Culture Minister Giorgos Lianis, head of the county’s sports portfolio, expressed hope that the country’s two biggest clubs could lead by example in Greek soccer’s attempt to entice fans back to grounds. Attendance figures have plummeted in recent years, mainly because of persisting violence. Stricter regulations have been promised. «I believe that the match won’t be marred by unacceptable events,» Lianis said. Just over a week ago, UEFA, soccer’s European governing body, handed AEK and the Greek soccer federation fines worth over 150,000 euros for crowd misbehavior. The body has also warned that, in the face of continued antics, the penalties could get stiffer. For Saturday, Olympiakos’s administration had initially demanded that visiting Panathinaikos fans be barred from attending for safety reasons. The away side retaliated, while police told league officials they could handle the duty of controlling rival fans in the stands. Panathinaikos is being provided with the minority share of match tickets away sides are entitled to. Parts of the stands will remain empty to keep rival fans apart.