Domestic revamp demanded after Euro 2004

Without a doubt, the meeting was historic. The most powerful individuals behind Greek club-level soccer, rivals that have orchestrated its troubled fate of late, finally agreed to sit around the same negotiating table for a meeting last Thursday. It was meant to be held in secret, but, due to its importance, news eventually leaked out. Socrates Kokkalis, the president of Olympiakos, winner of seven of the country’s past eight league titles, and Yiannis Vardinoyiannis, chief of last season’s title winner, Panathinaikos, were both present at the meeting, but they refused to make any comments afterwards. Also present were the president of PAOK, Yiannis Youmenos, and his deputy, Giorgos Kalyvas. The national team’s sensational success at the European Championship in Portugal, from where it returned as champion, has, as a consequence, placed enormous pressure on local authorities to clean up a domestic soccer situation that has been marred by crowd violence and high-level corruption for years. Greece’s win in Portugal has given solid voice to the demands of the people for a thorough restructuring of the country’s most popular sport. Until now, the motives of local soccer authorities have been governed by expediency and protection of self-interest, but Greece’s triumph in Portugal has given rise to popular demand for drastic change. After all, soccer’s restructuring was one of the pledges made by the recently elected conservative New Democracy party, as its deputy culture minister, Giorgos Orfanos, the government’s top sporting official, underscored when he assumed his duties. In recent weeks, Orfanos has held a series of soccer-related meetings. Last Thursday’s session with Kokkalis and Vardinoyiannis was the latest. According to sources, Orfanos asked both men to set aside their rivalries, which is seen as a crucial factor in normalizing the highly strung world of Greek soccer. The meeting’s outcome remains unknown, but insiders said Kokkalis and Vardinoyiannis had engaged in amicable discussion, while plans were set for a second round of talks in the near future. Subjects discussed included that of EPAE, the association of professional Greek soccer clubs, which is scheduled to hold a general meeting today. Sources reporting on last Thursday’s meeting said participants agreed that a new EPAE chief, one acceptable to all sides, would need to be apppointed. At this juncture, it is considered certain that the association’s current chief, Thanassis Kanellopoulos, will be replaced. Kokkalis and Vardinoyiannis, sources said, also raised the issue of administration changes at EPO, the Greek soccer federation, and the Central Refereeing Committee.