SPORTS

Return to original proposal

Confusion surrounding the prospects of Panathinaikos soccer club’s plans for a new home stadium has persisted for years. Not surprisingly, then, a 70-minute meeting yesterday between the club’s chief Yiannis Vardinoyiannis and Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos failed to provide any hints of clarity to the long-running issue. Panathinaikos, one of Greece’s two biggest clubs, has, in recent seasons, hosted games at its traditional home base, the downtown Leoforos Alexandras Stadium, which it returned to after its refurbishing into a 15,000-capacity all-seater from a mostly standing setup with a capacity for 25,000. Prior to the old ground’s refurbishment, the team spent several seasons hosting games at the state-owned Olympic Stadium. But Panathinaikos, arguably Greece’s most renowned in European club-level competition, is demanding a bigger stadium of its own. But expansion of the Leoforos Alexandras venue, tightly hemmed in by apartment buildings, into a completely rebuilt complex, would be a messy, if not impossible, procedure. During yesterday’s talks with Venizelos, Vardinoyiannis reiterated the team’s first proposal, originally voiced some three years ago, for a new home base in nearby Goudi Park. The park is entirely owned by the Greek military. The idea prompted a defiant response from local residents, forcing the State to suggest the development of an expanse in the capital’s western suburbs as an alternative. Panathinaikos officials virtually derided the idea as a realistic option and proposed the expansion of Leoforos Alexandras with plans entailing the acquisition of surrounding property, including an adjacent petrol station, for additional building space. Though residential reaction here has not been as potent as in Goudi, some resistance has emerged, which has now taken the club back to its original Goudi Park choice, despite the objections. «Mr Venizelos and I discussed the subject of a home ground and other issues regarding Greek soccer. We’re headed in the right direction and will see how the matter develops in the future, as it does not depend only on us,» said Vardinoyiannis. «I’m pleased by the meeting because you gain things from meetings such as these, and Panathinaikos, until now, is in no man’s land with regard to its home stadium,» he added. The country’s other major club, archrival Olympiakos, is looking forward to moving into a rebuilt home stadium, Karaiskaki – to host Olympic soccer – right after next summer’s Games. Olympiakos has agreed to undertake refurbishment costs, worth an estimated 50 million euros, in exchange for a 49-year lease of its traditional home stadium. The Greek State intervened to assure that the Piraeus club, owned by the powerful entrepreneur Socrates Kokkalis, would reach a deal with the Karaiskaki Stadium’s owner, the Hellenic Olympic Committee, which initially opposed the idea and, subsequently, delayed the Olympics-related project. Now, Panathinaikos is expecting favorable treatment, too, in its bid for a new home ground. «Panathinaikos should have had its own home ground – the club has been entitled to this for years. I believe that the solution is just a matter of time. The [prospective] stadium is not related to the political developments,» said Vardinoyiannis, refering to the likelihood of a leadership change in the ruling PASOK party ahead of earlier-than-expected national elections.