SPORTS

Olympiakos boss demands scrapping of fan ban ahead of clash with rival

With his mind focused on a crucial away clash against Panathinaikos on Sunday week that is likely to determine this season’s title race, the Olympiakos club’s president, Socrates Kokkalis, yesterday called on the government to nullify a recent controversial ban on visiting fans that was implemented to confront persisting crowd violence in Greek soccer. Speaking at a news conference, Kokkalis insisted that the game, to be played at Panathinaikos’s Leoforos Alexandras stadium, should be played on equal terms. A mere two points separate front runner Panathinaikos and second-placed Olympiakos, the defending champion, at the top of the Greek first division well into the season. When the archrival clubs met earlier this season at Olympiakos’s home ground, the ban on away fans, introduced by the previous government’s top sporting official, Giorgos Lianis, had not yet been implemented. «The Olympiakos club demands that sports-related officials, meaning the deputy culture minister, Mr [Giorgos] Orfanos, and public order minister, Mr [Giorgos] Voulgarakis, confront the problem caused by Mr Lianis, and that the game on April 18 at Leoforos Alexandras stadium be played under the exact same conditions as the first game at Rizoupoli Stadium,» Kokkalis said. «Panathinaikos, which constantly portrays itself as being unfairly dealt with, ought to have the courage to meet us on equal terms and not hide behind unacceptable revisions to regulations that serve to benefit it,» Kokkalis added. The belligerent remarks threaten to escalate tension between the two rival camps ahead of the encounter in less than a fortnight. Kokkalis had also unleashed a series of controversial remarks just days before the two teams met in a crucial title-decider late last season. Reliable sources yesterday told Kathimerini that the government was taking Kokkalis’s demands into consideration. Public Order Minister Voulgarakis is expected to make a decision over the next few days. Probably intending to keep tensions low ahead of the match, officials at Panathinaikos did not respond to the Olympiakos chief’s remarks. If, however, Kokkalis persists with his volatile remarks, the Panathinaikos camp is likely to hit back. The previous government’s fan ban, introduced earlier this season, has proved controversial. It entails not supplying tickets to organized fan clubs that travel together and occupy single blocks in stadiums. Not long after the measure was introduced, EPAE, the professional association of Greek soccer clubs, citing the initiative’s financial repercussions on teams, urged the government to nullify the ban. Many Greek clubs, particularly smaller ones, rely heavily on ticket sales generated by traveling fans of major clubs.