The events that transpired last Sunday evening, Jan. 7, in the second half of the derby between Olympiacos Piraeus and AEK Athens for the Superleague Championship was the inevitable conclusion of the rancid decline that’s led to an absolute decay of Greece’s top-flight football league.
Specifically, an unknown ref from Slovakia by the name of Boris Marhefka, someone who rarely officiates in matches in his own country, was appointed by the Hellenic Football Federation’s (EPO) central refereeing committee (KED) to officiate the crucial derby in the Superleague’s 17th week of play. In the end, he wound up refereeing the conclusion of a tragicomedy that’s been played out for the past four years in domestic football.
It’s with the huge responsibility of the current government, which continues to refuse to drastically intervene in order to simply apply its own commitments for a “clean football product” to satisfy fans, that the filth has filtered down to the very root of every strand of grass on Greece’s pitches.
The never-applied Mitsotakis- Čeferin memorandum
Exactly four years ago it was Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis himself who pledged, in the presence of UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin and FIFA Vice-President Greg Clarke, to undertake a much-coveted “catharsis” of Greek football.
Mitsotakis appeared indignant but at the same time determined “to succeed where others have failed”, because, according to him, Greek football deserved “to heal its wounds”. In other words, he wanted to be the guarantor of a normality which, as it turned out, was never achieved.
That memorandum of cooperation, which was signed in February 2020 with the heads of the European and international federations, today resembles a forgotten and faded piece of paper of no value, tucked away in some locked drawer – if it hasn’t already been crumpled up and thrown into the waste basket. It’s as if that official meeting at the Maximos Mansion government seat had never happened.
At the time, UEFA and FIFA had undertaken the obligation to jointly prepare, within a matter of months, a holistic study for the improvement and upgrading of Greek professional football. The two football federations would submit specific proposals regarding the structure, organization, officiating, anti-violence measures and the overall integrity of the game. As foreseen, three months passed and in the autumn of the same year (October – November 2020), EPO had at its disposal a very detailed report, listing everything it was obliged to implement, accordingly, in order to modernize its operations as much as possible.
A holistic study that was applied piece-meal
The holistic study defined everything, providing in detail all the appropriate areas of adjustment, namely: how the Greek Federation should take action to ensure the integrity of league championships and, by extension, to upgrade football as a whole. The study referred to a new mode of operation, a modification of rules governing the federation’s general assembly and its election system, while at the same time curbing the power of the executive committee, along with new rules for officiating and stamping out rigged games.
The question thus arises: What has transpired to date? The answer: Almost nothing.
The government has constantly focused on the need to implement what the holistic study stipulated, while at the same time accusing EPO of engaging in a mockery and stagnation, a situation that the prime minister abhors, but one, however, that he hasn’t resolved.
Only the leadership of the sports ministry has changed in these years, along with the transfer of the portfolio from the culture ministry to the education ministry. Lefteris Avgenakis gave way to Yannis Economou, with the latter passing the “baton” to Yannis Vroutsis. Regardless, behind the opaque window lies the sedentary attitude of the federation, which for obvious reasons has delayed any necessary change.
Yiannis Zoitos: EPO president Takis Baltakos and his close associates, first and foremostly the CEO of the executive committee, Iakovos Filippousis, continue to act unscrupulously and completely in their own self-interest, constantly pointing to EPO’s feeble autonomy in order to maintain their positions and not lose privileges. Yes, the holistic study was approved in August 2021 by the general assembly, but only after major “discounts” had been made over several basic axes of the plan; discounts that exceed even those of store brands.
Essentially, most of the recommendations by the international federations were largely ignored, with the only points adopted being those that didn’t affect its unbridled operation. That’s why since then every legislative initiative has been consistently denounced as an attempt to intervene, with the result being the current government ensnared in a permanent hibernation, appearing unable to dismantle an organized racket that operates in the shadows and one that favors specific teams.
It’s exactly this point that Olympiacos FC vice-president and legal advisor Alexis Kougias focused on during a press conference he gave on Wednesday, where he briefed reporters, among others, over the filing of a lawsuit against all those involved in previous Sunday’s derby, such as EPO President Takis Baltakos, along with the likes of Freudfeld, Mandalos, Spyropoulos, Marchefka, Michel and Meidanas. The noted attorney also addressed the Piraeus Prosecutor’s Office to denounce what he called the creation of a criminal gang and the deceptive actions of the aforementioned individuals. He even called for the intervention of Deputy Sports Minister Vroutsis.
A government that’s failing to act
On his part, Greek PM Mitsotakis has often repeated, with the last instance being in August when he received UEFA boss Čeferin after a rampage of Croatian hooligans, who traveled through half of Greece, his threat of banning Greek teams from European play. However, events have proven that he remains a hostage to a rotten situation that is leading football to disaster.
Decisions such as banning fans from the top-flight championship and Cup play for two months, something that severely punishes the healthy (and largest) bloc of fans, in the end, undermine the entire product, and are essentially only kneejerk reactions.
In any case, these decisions are taken only to be paraded before the public’s eyes; they’re actually completely outdated and never produced results in the past. Football officiating in Greece remains an unresolved mess, and dozens of games in the country are still on rigged-match lists. At the same time, fan violence has intensified, taking the form of a man-eating monster that shows no mercy. The blood of young people, such as Alkis Kampanos and Michalis Katsouris, who were brutally stabbed, as well as on-duty police officer Giorgos Lyggeridis in the Rentis district, who was hit by a naval flare and died in a hospital days later, is still fresh on doorsteps, streets and squares!