By Andrew Warshaw
April 29 – Despite a solution seemingly having been reached between Greek authorities and FIFA to resume the national cup competition and prevent Greece being thrown out of international football, PAOK Salonica owner Ivan Savvidis (pictured) pulled his team out of this week’s semi-final, second leg against Olympiakos Piraeus because his conditions had not been met.
Earlier this month, the threat of an international ban on Greece was lifted after an 11th-hour agreement was reached to restart the domestic cup competition.
Greece had been given a 10-day ultimatum to stop government interference in its footballing affairs or risk a worldwide ban after refusing to reinstate the cup competition, scrapped by the authorities in March because of crowd trouble.
The tournament was called off after the first leg of the semi-final between PAOK and Olympiakos on March 2 was abandoned due to a pitch invasion.
New legislation would have allowed the government to impose fines ranging from €10,000 to €25 million for violent incidents, order the postponement or cancellation of sporting events and even prohibit teams from playing in European competition but the legislation would breach strict rules on government interference in football.
FIFA gave the Greeks until April 15 to reverse the decision and a compromise seemed to have been reached to play behind closed doors. But Savvidis had warned that he would not bring his team to Athens for the second leg unless a foreign referee was appointed and Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) president Giorgos Girtzikis resigned.
After carrying out his threat, Olympiakos, already awarded a 3-0 win after the first leg, have now been given another 3-0 victory and will meet AEK Athens on May 7 in the final at the Olympic Stadium.
“Believe me, this decision was not easy,” Savvidis said in a statement. “Our declaration to not participate further in the competition following the unprecedented lawlessness at our Toumba stadium two months ago began an irreversible process for the cleansing of Greek football, and I’m glad PAOK is playing a leading role in this movement.”
Having already been fined €100,000, docked three points from next season’s Greek Super League and ordered to play three matches behind closed doors following the first-leg trouble, PAOK now seem likely to incur further punishment for not showing up in Piraeus.
But a defiant Savvidis said he was prepared to make sacrifices if it meant a healthier landscape for Greek football. “Greek football is experiencing a deep crisis – healthy and fair forces are fighting against a well-organised and corrupt system,” he said.
“We must unite our efforts and show the need to protect the value of sports in this country because justice and dignity are above the interests of any particular club. In this struggle sometimes there will be losses, and PAOK are ready to sacrifice.”
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