SPORTS

Violence in Greek sport has spread beyond the country’s major games

I’ve attended many volleyball games over recent days and must say that, at the end of each encounter, I left feeling pleasantly relieved. This had nothing to do with the standard of play. All three games I witnessed, as part of the volleyball final series, were truly captivating. I left feeling fortunate because I had managed to evacuate the stadium safe and sound on each occasion. This may all seem exaggerated, but it is not. Covering games on a regular basis as a sports journalist has become synonymous with feeling threatened by various flying objects like bits of cement, stones, pieces of wood, garbage cans, chairs, plastic bottles containing frozen water, firecrackers, coins, lighters, or coffee-filled plastic cups. Anybody who has not faced the danger of being beaten up for simply applauding worthy play knows nothing about the sporting nature of contemporary Greek fans. Anybody who has not been kicked – in a VIP stand – for trying to protect somebody else whose deed amounted to nothing more than expressing support for a beloved team, knows nothing about modern Greek sporting ethics. The refusal of families to attend volleyball games, even water polo games, is often questioned. It is often believed that the persistent state of hooliganism plaguing soccer and basketball, the country’s two most popular sports, has not affected these comparatively more peripheral games. How is it possible for families to attend when, for instance, a recent water polo match between AO Palaio Faliro and Panionios was invaded by fans of a third team, AEK, who barged in to settle previous differences with Panionios supporters? They threw all sorts of solid objects. How are families supposed to attend when, at another recent water polo match, this time between Olympiakos and Vouliagmeni, a plastic bottle of frozen water, thrown by a fan of the former, whistled by a young spectator’s head? How are families meant to go out and enjoy a sports match when, for example, in a recent volleyball encounter between Olympiakos and Panathinaikos, so-called fans of the former tossed countless firecrackers and coffee into the arena and then attacked two of their own club’s retired star players? How can families find pleasure out there when, in another shameful example, fans of Olympiakos, unable to bear their side’s defeat against Iraklis in a volleyball final two years ago, hurled chairs, pieces of wood, or whatever else lay before them toward rivals? That day shocked children hid for cover. Of course, the administrations behind these clubs feel that such incidents serve their objectives, and they are keeping their hands off. It will be too late once they realize the extent of the damage being done.