Brazil’s head-butter is back

Growing tension, ahead of tomorrow’s national soccer league encounter between crosstown rivals Olympiakos and Panathinaikos, has escalated further following a tribunal’s decision to let one of Olympiakos’s players off the hook just days ahead of the eagerly anticipated match. Brazilian midfielder Ze Elias’s five-game suspension for head-butting an opponent during a recent league match against Iraklis was reduced to just one game on Wednesday after Olympiakos officials lodged an appeal. Consequently, the player is now available for selection, after having missed last weekend’s match against Ethnikos Asteras. Throughout the week, various incidents have led to accumulating tension ahead of the weekend clash. At Panathinaikos, officials and fans were outraged by host team Olympiakos’s decision to overcharge visiting fans for tickets by more than double the price offered to their own supporters. Also, ISAP, the operator of the Piraeus-Kifissia train line, warned it would bar supporters from using the service for tomorrow’s game unless certain guarantees were met. Responding to a recent Molotov cocktail attack on a train car at the Faliron station that left at least 10 people injured, ISAP officials demanded – and got – a letter of credit from EPAE, Greece’s association for professional soccer clubs, worth 100 million drachmas as insurance against potential damage. As for the tribunal’s verdict on Ze Elias, the decision runs contrary to customary regulations governing players’ unruly on-pitch behavior. We should not neglect, however, that the tribunal’s revised verdict was reached on the basis of evidence provided by a report from the referee of the match. Judging from the report, a biased one in which the referee stated that Ze Elias was shown a red card for pushing his opponent, the tribunal’s decision had already been set in motion before the ink dried. The head-butting incident was clear. Everybody saw it. The culprit, too, admitted committing the act and apologized. Olympiakos’s appeal is also worth consideration, in which the club asked that Ze Elias’s original five-game suspension be reduced to three games before it was eventually slashed to just one. Members of the tribunal, who base their decisions exclusively on referee reports, may not be obliged to be fully aware of the proceedings at games. However, one important detail was ignored allowing for a softer stance against Ze Elias. If the Brazilian player’s behavior was simply improper, as the tribunal concluded before watering down its penalty, then a yellow card would have sufficed. The red card alone should have been a strong enough motive for closer investigation. Sadly, the final decision has fueled the pre-match tension further. At this point, we can only wonder why video replays of controversial incidents are not used by the sports tribunal as a visual aid before verdicts are reached. In the Spanish league, for example, Brazilian star Rivaldo, who was shown a yellow card in a recent game, now faces the prospect of a heavier penalty after a video clearly revealed to authorities that the player had elbowed an opponent. It is necessary that other means, besides match reports, also be used if we want to begin talking about transparency in Greek soccer. But the tightness of the social fabric that has long disappeared from most districts of the city is still much in evidence and includes the newcomers who feel very much a part of their new community.

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