Greece set to escape ban as sports law goes to parliament

Greek soccer is set to breathe a sigh of relief as the country’s controversial new sports law was submitted to parliament on Wednesday with the necessary amendments to avoid a FIFA and UEFA ban from international competition.

The bill will be voted on in parliament on Wednesday and Thursday after protracted talks between Stavros Kontonis, Greece’s Deputy Minister for Education, Culture and Religious Affairs, and UEFA officials in Nyon reached their conclusion.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was also briefed on Tuesday evening ahead of the bill’s submission to parliament.

“We have made a serious effort in order to avoid Greek teams being excluded from international competitions, with our national team always top of our mind,” Kontonis said when addressing parliament.

He added: “National teams are not clubs belonging to the federation, they are teams which belong to the Greek people and give joy when they are successful.

“The situation in Greek soccer and sports in general is out of control and this bill represents a large step towards tackling the problems.”

After two weeks of consultations with UEFA officials, the text for the bill on emergency measures to deal with violence in stadiums was finalized late on Tuesday.

“We are proud of the result (of the amended law), which we believe serves the best of both the legitimacy and the need for reform in Greek soccer,” said Kontonis, who also thanked both UEFA and FIFA for their part in talks to resolve the issues.

“Our discussions have been in a spirit of mutual understanding, sincerity and good faith, and they have been completed in the best way despite the continuous efforts of many to torpedo it,” Kontonis added.

Greek soccer officials were warned initially by a joint FIFA-UEFA statement on April 22 that they could face a suspension over government interference if the sports law was implemented in its initial form.

However, following meetings in Athens and Nyon between both sides, the state reached compromises over the sections of the bill which referred to the self-governance powers of the country’s soccer federation (EPO).

The new bill was the state’s response to continuous problems with crowd trouble which have caused the suspension of soccer matches three times alone this season.

Greece have clashed with FIFA on several occasions in the past on similar issues.

EPO suspended the 2004 European champions and its member clubs from international competition because of government interference in the sport in 2006, a ban which lasted nine days until amendments in the country’s sports law were put in place.

FIFA had also threatened to suspend Greece on similar grounds in 2002, before again some last-minute alterations in the state legislation were implemented and the country escaped sanctions. [Reuters]

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