Away-fan ban to last through the season

Defying pressure for the nullification of a recent ban on away fans as a measure to combat violence in Greek soccer, the recently elected conservative government’s top sporting official said yesterday that the ban would remain for the rest of the season. On Monday, Olympiakos’s president Socrates Kokkalis, a powerful entrepreneur, demanded that the newly appointed deputy culture minister, Giorgos Orfanos, who is in charge of sports, drop the ban implemented by his predecessor ahead of an upcoming clash between second-placed Olympiakos and front runner Panathinaikos at the latter’s home ground. Panathinaikos lies a slender two points ahead of its archrival, just five rounds before the season’s finale, and the encounter in less than a fortnight could determine the title race. Along the way, Panathinaikos must also face third-placed PAOK in Thessaloniki. Kokkalis charged that the away-fan ban, implemented by the previous government midway through the season, prior to the first-round meeting between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos, had created unfair conditions for the encounter on April 18. Panathinaikos fans had traveled to their club’s away game against Olympiakos. But following yesterday’s decision, fans of the Piraeus club will not be able to attend their team’s visit to the Leoforos Alexandras ground, Panathinaikos’s home stadium. The ban, which has proven controversial and tricky to implement, entails not supplying tickets to organized fan clubs which travel together and occupy single blocks in stadiums. Until the ban came into effect, away teams were entitled to a 20 percent share of match tickets, as well as the remainder of unwanted home-team tickets. 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 previous government to lift the ban. Many Greek clubs, particularly smaller ones, rely heavily on ticket sales generated by the visiting fans of major clubs. «The situation regarding ticket supply will remain as is until the end of the season,» Orfanos told reporters. «Next season, with the exception of extremely difficult cases, fans will be able to travel without restrictions,» he added. Olympiakos’s vice president, Petros Kokkalis, son of the Piraeus team’s boss, condemned the decision. «I believe that it’s unacceptable to stage a match at the Leoforos Alexandras stadium without Olympiakos supporters,» said Kokkalis. «This is an absurd situation. We expected greater bravery from the deputy minister. After all, he had condemned his predecessor’s decision,» he added, referring to Giorgos Lianis, architect of the fan ban. Prior to Orfanos’s decision, Olympiakos officials, defying the league’s current regulations, met with Panathinaikos officials to push for a 20 percent share of match tickets. «We asked for 20 percent of the tickets, which we’re entitled to, based on the league’s regulation’s for our first-round match,» said Giorgos Louvaris, a top-ranking official at the Olympiakos club.

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