Relegation-threatened Aris could sink deeper into trouble

The extensive violence that erupted in the stands by the so-called fans of Aris soccer club during its home encounter against defending champion Olympiakos last weekend threatens to plunge the Thessaloniki team deeper into the Greek first division’s danger zone. Aris, currently placed 12th in the 16-team competition’s standings, three points clear of the relegation zone, could hit rock bottom if a sports tribunal imposes heavy punishment, as is considered likely by pundits. The team is threatened with a fine comprising automatic losses for its next three league games and, beyond that, playing as many as five home games before empty stands. Seeing their team go down 3-0 to Olympiakos last Sunday, Aris supporters uprooted and tossed a vast number of stadium seats onto the playing arena and smashed 10 TV cameras. As a result, live transmission of the game was interrupted. Yet, with national elections approaching in the new year, there is also talk of lighter forms of punishment by authorities for one of Thessaloniki’s three most popular clubs. Officials at EPAE, the association of professional Greek soccer clubs, have already indicated, according to sources, that any fine was unlikely to hold the club responsible for the interrupted transmission of the game. This factor would need to be included if Aris is to be deprived of any points over a three-game period. The sources contended that Aris could escape such a penalty because the club had signed no deal with NetMed, owner of SuperSport, the pay-TV channel that offered live coverage for Sunday’s match. Aris’s president, Sotiris Karaberis, has refrained from making any public comments about the violence generated by his team’s supporters. He did, however, cite damages caused by visiting fans and noted that police forces on duty were incompetent. Such remarks underline the main problem plaguing Greek soccer, which is not failure in European club-level competition but violence. In recent years, the behavior of players, particularly professionals, has been generally acceptable. Fan-related violence, though, both inside and outside stadiums, has remained rife. By publishing controversial stories, the country’s sports press is serving its own interests by fanning the flames of fanaticism. Club bosses have often stirred emotions among fans with extreme comments ahead of games, among them Olympiakos boss Socrates Kokkalis, who has gone down on record for remarking, «These are the fans we have and we’re not going to change them.» For days ahead of last Sunday’s trouble-marred match, the Aris boss had made a series of controversial statements to work up fanaticism among club fans. However, no intervention from leading sports officials was noted.