Ban on away fans to go on

Saying Greece’s image is at stake before the Olympics, top government sports officials defended yesterday its hardline rules that ban soccer fans from traveling to away matches. «In 200 days’ time, we will be ready to host Games based on noble principles and ideals. .. but every Sunday at football grounds we come face to face with raw violence,» said Giorgos Lianis, Greece’s top sports official. «Violence is the true enemy of the athletic spirit,» Lianis added during a conference on soccer violence attended by club and police representatives and European experts on soccer hooligans. Under the new measures, away fans are effectively banned from all first-division soccer games for the rest of the season by the imposition of tight controls on ticket sales. In matches last weekend, police also turned away supporters from stadium entrances based on the city of residence listed on their identity cards. Several fans were detained for wearing away team scarves. The action has been heavily criticized by league organizers and small clubs as ineffective and financially disastrous. It also has caused a rift within the government over the extent of police powers at soccer grounds. Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who oversees government preparations for the August 13-29 Olympics, admitted there were «very serious problems with the application of the measures,» but blamed clubs for failing to back the government effort. Laws obliging clubs to install surveillance cameras and hire private security – imitating measures imposed in Britain in the 1980s – have been roundly ignored. A British expert, who is advising Portugal’s police on crowd control for the Euro 2004 soccer championships, warned that inappropriate policing could also cause problems here. «If you try to police crowds as a whole, you are more likely to have trouble… there must be ways to facilitate the legitimate fan,» said Clifford Stott of the University of Liverpool’s department of psychology. «If there is a sense of appropriate policing, fans distance themselves from violent elements – hooligans – and an atmosphere of self-policing is created.» Loula Karadza, a representative for the Greek Communist Party, blamed commercialism by soccer barons. «The club bosses want fans to behave like armies and the political clout that comes with it,» she said. «There is never a violence problem in amateur sports… but in soccer there is so much money. The transfer fee for a single star player costs more than Greece’s annual drug rehabilitation program. That’s disgraceful.»

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