Greek PM threatens suspension of soccer leagues
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s prime minister is seeking emergency talks with soccer’s world and European governing bodies to reform the country’s professional leagues and has threatened to suspend the competition as well as club participation in European tournaments.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Thursday he would extend “personal invitations” to the heads of FIFA and UEFA for emergency talks in Athens.
The warning came amid a public clash between the owners of two of the country’s most prominent clubs, Olympiakos and PAOK, over ownership rules — a spat that has also touched off a heated political dispute.
League leader PAOK faced relegation proceedings this week after Olympiakos lodged a complaint with sporting authorities maintaining that its chairman has violated ownership rules. The government rushed through a legislative amendment to block relegation. But the club, based in the northern city of Thessaloniki, still faces a points deduction that could cost it the title race.
The spat is the latest crisis to hit Greek professional soccer, which has been dogged for decades by fan violence, allegations of corruption, and high-profile public confrontations between club bosses.
“Football is important, but tax cuts, jobs, good hospitals, and good schools are far more important,” Prime Minister Mitsotakis told parliament. “We will draw up a memorandum with FIFA and UEFA for a restart of Greek football. I call on club owners to make use of this 11th-hour effort or they will be excluded from all international competition and they will be deprived of a valuable source of income for a long time.”
PAOK is owned by Greek-Russian businessman lvan Savvidis, who successfully challenged two decades of dominance by Olympiakos, which is based at the port of Piraeus near Athens, and owned by shipping magnate Vangelis Marinakis.
Both businessmen have stakes in newspapers and television channels, amplifying the confrontation.
ln Thessaloniki, some 8,000 PAOK fans joined a protest against the government, accusing it of siding with their rivals from the Greek capital.
“Olympiakos’ owners have been trying to undermine the league from the start of the season because they want to win the championship on paper,” 23-year-old PAOK fan and protester Nikos Kyriakidis told the AP. “We will take them to court and win.”
Kantouris reported from Thessaloniki, Greece. ___
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