SPORTS

Soccer club owners call on government to cooperate

Looking for solutions to end their self-imposed suspension of play in the Greek national soccer league’s top three divisions over severe financial woes, leading officials of the cash-strapped sides said Saturday they would submit a restructuring plan to the government by October 15. The clubs’ officials also warned that they will extend the ongoing suspension and stop paying fees to players should the government not accept their rescue plan by October 23. A protocol of agreement stipulating that clubs will take joint legal action to recover lost broadcasting fees following the financial collapse of a pay-TV channel, was signed by all 15 participating club presidents at Saturday’s meeting with EPAE officials. Panathinaikos, one of the country’s biggest clubs, however, was not represented. Stunned by the loss of lucrative contracts worth about 35 million euros annually with the now-defunct Alpha Digital pay-TV channel, soccer clubs decided to suspend league games on September 17 until October 26-27 to pressure the government to help bail them out. Instead, the government reacted harshly the following day by reducing the percentage that soccer clubs get from proceeds of the Propo soccer pools, administered by state pools and lottery company OPAP. Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos reduced the share of first-division teams to 3.5 percent from 4 percent, and of second-division teams to 2.5 percent from 3.5 percent as part of an amendment to sports law under discussion in Parliament. Venizelos has refused to consider the clubs’ demand for Greek League games to be included in Pame Stoichima (Let’s Bet), OPAP’s most lucrative game. This is because the game is jointly administered by Intralot, a company owned by Olympiakos owner Socrates Kokkalis. The loss of club revenues from Alpha Digital has put the survival of many Greek clubs in jeopardy. Alpha Digital had contracts with 10 of the 16 first-division clubs, including league contenders Panathinaikos, Olympiakos and AEK. It stopped live broadcasts on September 11. Saturday’s protocol also states that the 15 clubs will work together for an upgraded professional league, while also calling for an end to the monopoly that exploits it, in reference to the government’s full control over proceeds from soccer pools. Responding to the outcome of Saturday’s meeting between club presidents and EPAE officials, the government maintained a reserved stance. «This announcement is a combination of reasonable and unreasonable points,» Venizelos said yesterday, referring to the protocol. «The State is ready to accept, discuss, and support every honest and documented proposal for soccer’s overall business restructuring, while it also insists on the implementation of laws,» he added.