Security plan for Greek Cup Final in crisis following change of date

Quite remarkably, after weeks of deliberations by the country’s soccer federation, Greek police and clubs over safety measures to be implemented for the upcoming Greek Cup Final between archrivals AEK and Olympiakos on Crete, it appears that traveling fans will be forced to share ferry boats for their voyage to Iraklion’s Pankritio Stadium, where the final will be held on May 10. The security plan for the game, a potentially volatile one which officials fear could result in violence between hot-headed fans, suffered a major setback just days ago after the encounter was suddenly pushed back to May 10 from May 6. Just days ago, Iraklion’s police chief announced that a coinciding anti-war gathering in Athens would undermine security efforts for the Cup Final. The police official told the Greek soccer federation, EPO, that the Athens gathering – the anti-globalist European Social Forum, which began yesterday and runs through May 7 – would force a large percentage of required and requested police reinforcements to remain in the capital for duty. The Iraklion police chief warned the soccer federation that, with about two-thirds of the reinforcements demanded for the security effort on Crete stranded in Athens, an effective security plan for the Cup Final could not be assured. The European Social Forum’s four-day event had been planned well in advance. Accountability for the lack of foresight when the original soccer final date was set remains unclear. The change of date for the Cup Final – from this coming Sunday to a working day, next Wednesday – has prompted major confusion over travel plans organized by officials to keep fans apart. Original plans included rival fans leaving from different ports. But the sudden change of date has destroyed all pre-emptive measures, apparently leaving fans with no option but to scramble for available ferry tickets for a trip that is more than seven hours long. These unanticipated developments, it is believed, will force Greek police to implement security plans on the ferry boats themselves, with rival fans separated on various decks. The Greek soccer federation provided AEK and Olympiakos with 9,050 tickets apiece for the Cup Final at Iraklion’s 26,400-capacity Pankritio Stadium. Security measures for the encounter include empty stands serving as safety buffer zones between rival fans. Both clubs have apparently informed EPO that they would not object to the final being moved to Athens to undercut the potential threat. But the soccer federation has insisted on its original plan. Security efforts aside, this situation underscores the country’s soccer-related hooliganism woes. For years, attendance figures have dwindled as troublemaking fans have spread fear in and around stadiums. Clubs, the police, and successive governments have been unable to effectively remedy the situation.