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FIFA send emergency delegation to Greece as ECA suspends PAOK membership

By Paul Nicholson and Andrew Warshaw

March 14 – A FIFA delegation has landed in Greece to discuss the chaos of the weekend which has since seen the Greek Superleague suspended indefinitely by the Greek government. Separately the European Club Association has taken the unusual step of provisionally suspending PAOK following the unprecedented events in their match against league title rivals AEK Athens.

“FIFA demands an uncompromising and robust approach in exterminating all forms of violent acts in football,” FIFA director for Europe Bjorn Vassallo said in a letter to Greek deputy minister for sport Yiorgos Vassiliadis.

The latest Greek football crisis was precipitated by PAOK owner Ivan Savvides who entered the field carrying a holstered handgun and allegedly threatened the referee after a 90th minute goal was disallowed.

Greece’s Super League has already been suspended and an arrest warrant has been issued for Savvidis, a Russian oligarch who previously held the position of Deputy to the State Duma in the Russian government between 2007 and 2011. He took over PAOK in August 2012.

“In accordance with the ECA Statutes, the ECA Executive Board unanimously decided to suspend, with immediate effect, PAOK FC as member of the European Club Association,” the influential European body explained in a statement.

The suspension will be in force “until further notice” as the ECA will consider the next steps in its upcoming general assembly, due to be held in Rome.

“The ECA exists to protect the integrity and regularity of competitions and matches as well as the sporting values and principles on which European football is based,” the association added.

Greek football has been plagued by controversy on and off the pitch for years and authorities have repeatedly promised to clean up the game. However, attendances have dwindled and this season only four clubs in the 16-team top division have posted average attendances of more than 5,000 spectators.

Nevertheless Greece’s top division vehemently opposed the suspension of all Superleague fixtures over the weekend incident, saying it threatened the clubs’ very existence while Savvides has apologised for his part in Sunday’s disturbances.

“The suspension (of matches) does not bring anything,” Superleague President Giorgos Stratos told reporters after meeting Deputy Culture and Sports Minister Georgios Vassiliadis. “It creates a grave danger and we are possibly moving away from our aims and objectives.”

Stratos said he had asked for the “quickest possible resumption” of matches while Savvides, still sought by police for questioning, said he had no intention of causing harm to anyone even though the damage is done.

“I want to apologise to PAOK fans, to Greek fans and to the global football community,” he said in a club statement. “I am sorry and I had no right to enter the pitch in such a way. I had no intention of clashing with anyone and I clearly did not threaten anyone.”

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