SPORTS

Soccer revamp plan takes another step

Leading club officials of four of the country’s major soccer teams reached an agreement with the government’s top sporting authority yesterday to begin work on revamping Greek soccer through the establishment of a cleaner and more competitive top-level division, the Super League. The teams’ representatives – Petros Kokkalis of Olympiakos; Yiannis Vardinoyiannis, a major shareholder at Panathinaikos; Christos Panopoulos, who holds a majority stake at Xanthi; and AEK representative Giorgos Rokkas – said they would put the interests of their respective clubs aside and work collectively for Greek soccer’s overall good. «They’re not seeking dominant roles for their clubs but believe that collective progress in soccer will also help their own teams,» said Giorgos Orfanos, the government’s top sporting official, following yesterday’s meeting. For years, the sport, Greece’s most popular, has been plagued by dwindling attendance figures as a result of rampant hooliganism and corruption in boardrooms generated by myopic and selfish figures at the helm. The national team’s sensational triumph at Euro 2004 raised hopes that that success would inspire a new era in domestic soccer, but, in all truth, that remains to be seen. Led by Olympiakos and Panathinaikos, Greece’s biggest teams in terms of success and popularity, the clubs want to create a more competitive and more financially sound top division and have greater control over solving the sport’s problems. A proposal for the establishment of a Super League was first tabled by the formidable provincial club Xanthi. Five of the current first division’s clubs, led by Thessaloniki team PAOK, have expressed reservations about the Super League plan and have suggested an alternative version, the Pro League. Ten of the first division’s 16 clubs are in favor of the Super League option. One, Akratitos, currently last in the standings, has detached itself from the issue. It is believed that the top officials of EPAE, Greece’s association of professional soccer clubs, are in favor of the Pro League option. At this stage, details for both the Super League and Pro League options remain unclear. First-division club representatives of both the Super League and Pro League rival camps have scheduled a meeting for tomorrow to discuss their differences. The government’s minister for sport, Giorgos Orfanos, said a draft law would be prepared based on the proposals submitted by the teams and submitted to Parliament for ratification and the establishment of a Super League next season, now six months away. «They presented me with a thorough plan [based] on the problems of Greek soccer, and we’re going to proceed with an amendment allowing the formation of a Super League next season,» said Orfanos, who noted that the proposals put forth tackled all the problems faced by professional Greek soccer. Orfanos did not disclose details, but said the proposals were «clearly moving in the right direction and offer support for smaller clubs.» However, before being addressed in Parliament for ratification, the amendment leading to the formation of a revamped top-level soccer league will require approval from a committee comprised of club and government officials. Commenting on PAOK’s counterproposal for a Pro League, Orfanos said additional aspects would be taken into consideration. «But, at this stage, we’re discussing the proposal submitted, which I believe has potential for development,» said Orfanos. Xanthi’s representative, Christos Panopoulos, the man who provided the Super League’s blueprint, expressed confidence that the required amendment would be made «so that the Super League can become a reality.»