SPORTS

Soccer, politics make a bad mix

Speaking on state-run radio ERA Sport yesterday, Deputy Culture Minister Yiannis Kourakis, the government’s top-ranked sporting official, denied reports connecting Evangelos Venizelos, the culture minister, with intentions to manipulate sports legislation for the sake of political expediency. On Tuesday, news reports claimed that Venizelos would revise or scrap current legislation to add four additional teams to the national premier league’s existing 14 for next season. Apollon Kalamaria, the local Thessaloniki side based in Venizelos’s electoral district, narrowly missed being promoted to the top league this season, but would be granted entry should the reports hold true. Ironically, sports officials had made a decision three years ago to reduce the league’s size, from 18 in the 1999-2000 season to 16 and 14 the two following seasons, with the objective of offering spectators leaner, meaner and more exciting action. This season, in which the title race was decided in the final round of play, was considered one of Greek soccer’s most captivating in years. Soccer officials had already decided to backtrack by adding a further two teams to next year’s premier league following protests from teams and MPs from Crete, who feared a backlash if the island’s only top-division team, OFI, was relegated. «I predict that restructuring of the championship is highly unlikely,» Kourakis told ERA Sport yesterday. However, the deputy minister said that the issue had been discussed by clubs and local officials. But it had not yet been tabled at EPAE, the association of professional soccer clubs, and EPO, Greece’s soccer federation. Kourakis told ERA sport that he wants to discuss the issue with these two administrative bodies and resolve it within the next 10 days. «The State will do what’s right, with strict regulations and absolute transparency, as the league’s regulations cannot be altered,» he concluded. Referring to the latest incidents of violence in Greek sports, Kourakis said the State’s reaction would be firm. A prospective bill currently being drafted, he said, would provide for strict punishment for violence in sports.