UEFA Pledges Support for Greek Soccer Overhaul

Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, right, shakes hands with UEFA President Aleskander Ceferin, during their meeting in Athens, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS, Greece — President of UEFA Aleksander Ceferin says it has agreed to help Greece overhaul its professional leagues to curb violence and corruption.

Ceferin met with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Tuesday and signed a seven-page agreement to provide assistance to the Greek Football Federation.

“UEFA will produce within three months from signing this declaration of intent, a holistic study for the improvement and upgrade of Greek professional football,” the document, seen by The Associated Press, said.

The study, it said, will include “tailor-made proposals” to restructure the league organization, respond to violence and “defamatory statements,” and safeguard the “integrity of the game to combat the threat of match-fixing, corruption, and doping.”

Successive governments have struggled for decades to contain violence surrounding Greece’s game, caught between the powerful influence of club owners and UEFA rules that do not allow direct government interference in the sport.

The recent introduction of overseas referees for major games and VAR technology has been credited with improving the quality of the league. But the changes have failed to eliminate match-related violence, attacks against referees, and ongoing allegations of corruption.

The prime minister last month warned he was willing to request expulsion of Greece’s teams from European competition and even suspend the league unless major clubs sign up to the reform plan.

“We have taken a decision to clean up Greek football for good and we are very much looking forward to your assistance in this process,” Mitsotakis told Ceferin. “Greeks are very much in love with the sport and, frankly, what we’ve seen doesn’t do justice to the product that we have.”

Ceferin, who was joined in Athens by FIFA vice president Greg Clarke, said he was glad to receive assurances that the government would provide only a supporting role in the reforms.

“We are glad that the government is joining this common effort,” Ceferin said. “I do think that football will solve (the problems) by itself — but with our help.”