SPORTS

Cup finalists agree on match terms, but security is a woe

Following an extended period of disputes over crowd-related regulations during this Saturday’s Greek Cup Final between the officials of archrivals Olympiakos and Panathinaikos, highly ranked representatives of both finalists finally agreed on terms at a session held yesterday at an Athens court. Argyris Mitsou, the president of Panathinaikos, and Olympiakos’s Vice President Giorgos Louvaris agreed on various issues, including, most importantly, seating arrangements for fans at the Nea Smyrni stadium in Athens, the home ground of Panionios, where the cup final will be staged under neutral conditions. Parts of the stands will remain empty to keep rival fans at a distance and minimalize the possibility of hostilities between the two. The meeting was mediated by the Hellenic Football Federation’s (EPO) chief official, Vassilis Gagatsis, as well as a public prosecutor. The cup final qualification of the perennial rivals Olympiakos and Panathinaikos, the country’s two biggest clubs, has prompted major security concerns for the competition’s organizers. Encounters between the two clubs have, in many cases, proven troublesome amid the country’s rampant sports-related hooliganism of recent years. In a bid to curb the violence, the previous government earlier this season implemented a ban on away fans traveling in organized groups for league matches. However, the measure is not valid for Saturday’s cup final, which must be staged under neutral conditions. The finalists, also locked in battle in league competition – Panathinaikos holds a narrow two-point lead with two rounds of play remaining – have been issued with just under 4,000 tickets each. Yet, despite yesterday’s agreement between the two clubs’ officials on the various match conditions, total security for a joyous cup final cannot be guaranteed, considering the turmoil of the past. Feeling confident of a smooth encounter is a far-fetched thought considering all the necessary measures. Besides the segregation of fans – with empty sections in between as safety barriers – three public prosecutors will be in attendance, and, furthermore, approximately 2,000 police officers will be on duty inside and outside the stadium to keep a watch on about 8,000 fans. «Unfortunately, prior to every encounter between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos, it’s become a ritual for us to meet here. That should be of concern to us all,» noted Mitsou, referring to the pre-match court session. «Panathinaikos fans will be civilized because the final will be a celebration. We’re going to avoid provocative remarks and may the best team win,» he added. Louvaris, Olympiakos’s deputy, said the mood was calm in his team’s camp, but he did note that seating arrangement revisions made by authorities on Monday were viewed as unfavorable at the Piraeus club. «The overall feeling among fans at Olympiakos is one of injustice. I hope this will be overcome. Talks have been held on how to handle the final,» said Louvaris. Gagatsis appeared to place his faith in wise distribution of match tickets by the respective administrations. «The final will be a celebration. The clubs can control the limited number of troublemakers who, I think, won’t try to get up to anything,» said Gagatsis. Greek President Costis Stephanopoulos has been invited to attend the final, but, so far, EPO has received no reply. «I still don’t know whether he’ll be attending,» said Gagatsis.