All Greek sports matches suspended for two weeks


Sun, Apr 01, 2007 - Page 23

Greece on Friday suspended all team sport matches for two weeks after a fan died in a pitched battle outside Athens, an incident that cast doubt on measures taken against the violence that has plagued sport in the country for decades.

The 25-year-old fan was killed and five others were injured in an arranged clash between some 300 hooligans of Greek arch-rivals Olympiakos Pireaus and Panathinaikos Athens ahead of a women's volleyball match, a sport which rarely draws supporter crowds.

Critics said the showdown had been brewing for weeks.

"We had warned that this game was dangerous," said Thanassis Beligratis, head of Greece's volleyball federation.

"The police should have taken precautionary measures," he told Skai Radio.

On Friday, the Greek government suspended all team sport matches until April 13 in response to the incident after an emergency Cabinet meeting on the issue.

The suspension includes the Orthodox Easter weekend on April 8, during which no matches are held anyway.

Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said the incidents were caused by a "minority" of fans.

"From the coming season, there will be surveillance cameras and electronic ticket tellers" installed in 20 of the country's main stadiums, he said.

"The authorities will know where fans are sitting and any responsibilities will now be person-specific," he said.

The authorities have spent years trying to eradicate the violence endemic in Greek sport, which is usually centered around soccer and basketball but occasionally affects other events such as water polo and volleyball.

But so far a mix of tougher laws and closer cooperation with clubs have not solved the problem.

"Things can be summed up in one word: impunity," Transport Minister Michalis Liapis said.

"This is our country's ancestral crime, to have laws that are not enforced," he said.

Olympiakos and Panathinaikos fans have a decades-old rivalry and frequently clash in sports where their teams compete, particularly soccer and basketball, and similar vendettas exist between other Greek clubs.

Crime experts point to the emergence of a new form of hooliganism, with agitators striking both during sports events and the street demonstrations over social issues routinely held in Greece.