Soccer violence down, so far

Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said yesterday that soccer violence had considerably diminished so far this season, requiring less police presence, and congratulated all professional clubs on their contribution. Voulgarakis made his comments following a meeting with AEK President Demis Nikolaidis. The minister had requested the meeting in order to thank Nikolaidis for his contribution toward reducing fan violence. Nikolaidis, a former AEK player who retired earlier this year after a one-year stint with Atletico Madrid, was also a favorite of AEK’s most tumultuous fan club, the Original. Since taking up the reins of the team with the help of a group of investors, he has cracked down on his former fans and has made a number of moves unusual thus far in Greek soccer, such as going to meet Socrates Kokkalis, president of Olympiakos soccer club, a few days before a match between the two clubs, to request a common stand against violence. The crowd that filled the 75,000-seat Olympic Stadium to near capacity was exemplary in its behavior. Nikolaidis, on his part, congratulated AEK fans on their willingness to cooperate in reducing violence. Another piece of good news in connection with Nikolaidis yesterday was that media conglomerate Netmed, once owners of the club, transferred its shares to AEK and agreed not to ask for money owed to it. AEK and Netmed also renewed their match-broadcasting contract until the end of the 2008-9 season. Netmed will pay 2 million euros per season to broadcast the matches on its Supersport subscriber network. Voulgarakis said that, so far this season, police presence inside football stadiums had decreased 80 percent, while the number of police on duty outside the grounds had fallen by 50 percent and that of patrols in nearby areas by 20 percent. He said this was a very good beginning, expressed the certainty that things will continue to improve and added that his vision was to make soccer match attendance a family weekend pastime. Voulgarakis also expressed satisfaction about the agreement between Olympiakos and Panathinaikos not to let visiting Panathinaikos fans attend Saturday’s clash between the two old and bitter rivals for the league championship. Asked whether police would install closed-circuit TV cameras in soccer stadiums, Voulgarakis replied that policing inside the stadiums was the clubs’ responsibility and that state authorities would take over only if Greece was awarded a major sports competition. Greece is bidding for the 2012 European Championship.