Panathinaikos seems close to new home

After an arduous struggle for permission to construct a new stadium at a location of its choice in Athens, Panathinaikos soccer club, one of the country’s two largest in terms of popularity and success, has more or less achieved its objective. At a meeting yesterday, Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias proposed two sites at Goudi and one at Hellenikon, where the Greek capital’s old international airport was located. The club, which will self-finance construction of its new stadium, has been asked to submit its preference by the end of January. The Goudi location, which had been shelved as an option by the previous government over residential and environmental concerns, rates as the Athens club’s first choice. Following yesterday’s developments, renewed resistance can be expected. At the same meeting yesterday, top officials of the Panathinaikos club’s basketball and volleyball divisions agreed to establish new homes at Goudi’s Olympics badminton facility. It will be converted into an 8,000-capacity venue for both sports. The acceptance of the Goudi alternative by the two club divisions should facilitate the soccer division’s relocation to the same site. «Panathinaikos soccer club will examine the issue of the new stadium’s construction at either Goudi or Hellenikon. I’m a fan of Panathinaikos but will function as a public works minister,» noted Souflias. «I’m neither going to disfavor nor favor Panathinaikos. I’ll do what I would do for any other club. Panathinaikos will approach us in January to indicate which site it prefers for the new ground’s construction,» he added. Souflias, however, reiterated the environmental and residential problems encountered at Goudi in the past. The Goudi site is owned by the Ministry of Defense and has been classified as parkland by the state. Approximately a year ahead of the Athens Olympics, rival club Olympiakos struck a deal with the previous government to reconstruct its traditional home ground, Karaiskaki stadium in Faliron, on time for the Games in exchange for a long-term lease thereafter. Just weeks ago, UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, told Panathinaikos that it could no longer use its current home ground, the outdated Alexandras Avenue stadium, for Champions League competition. Panathinaikos has since been ousted from Europe’s leading club-level competition and, as consolation, is continuing its campaign in the less prestigious UEFA Cup, for which it can host games at Alexandras Avenue. No details emerged from yesterday’s meeting on the new stadium’s exact location or construction specifications. Also, nothing was said of what would become of the Alexandras Avenue stadium. In the event that Panathinaikos relocates, the City of Athens has pledged to demolish the existing old stadium for greenery works and a square.