Sports chief shuns cup final

Reflecting Greek soccer’s dismal reputation as a spectator sport, one marred by persistent crowd violence for years, the government’s top sports official said yesterday that he had shunned a VIP invitation for tomorrow’s Greek Cup Final in Athens between perennial rivals Olympiakos and Panathinaikos. The refusal of Deputy Culture Minister Giorgos Orfanos to attend the match closely follows that of the country’s president, Costis Stephanopoulos. When asked by reporters yesterday whether he would seated in the stands for tomorrow’s cup final at the Nea Smyrni Stadium, home of the Panionios club, Orfanos responded with a laconic «no» without specifying the reasons for his decision. «I’m not going to discuss my personal decisions,» said Orfanos, during the first news conference since his recent appointment. However, Orfanos, pointing the finger at the administrations of the two finalists, Greece’s two biggest clubs, strongly suggested that hooliganism was his major concern. «Their contribution to soccer is not only valued monetarily, but primarily by the image projected of the sport,» said Orfanos. «Whatever occurs at the stadium will be referred to them. The State has taken its measures and conduct will be orderly. May they take care of their responsibilities,» he added. It has been announced that some 2,000 police officers will be on duty to keep a watch on slightly under 8,000 Olympiakos and Panathinaikos fans. Both clubs have been given almost 4,000 tickets each for distribution to supporters. In a bid to curb fan 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 tomorrow’s cup final, which must be played under neutral conditions. Considering the necessary presence of fans from both cup finalists, the qualification of archrivals Olympiakos and Panathinaikos has prompted major security concerns for the competition’s organizers. Encounters between the two clubs have, in many cases, proved troublesome amid the country’s rampant sports-related hooliganism of recent years. Appearing determined to change the troubled shape of domestic soccer competition, Orfanos, at yesterday’s news conference, suggested that changes were imminent for EPAE, the association of professional Greek soccer clubs, which organizes professional soccer competition.

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