Whether it’s over corruption, tax evasion, sports violence, crime, smoking, or any of a plethora of mini-crises in Greece that erupt because they’re allowed to – there are few consequences for doing anything wrong – you can count on whichever government is in power to announce a crackdown.
It looks like what we have here is a failure to communicate because the targets of all these alleged clampdowns apparently didn’t get the message as the bad behavior supposed to be stopped is still going on.
Next to governments pronouncing a war on drugs, a war on poverty – everything apparently except a war on war as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine showed – there’s perhaps nothing more tedious in journalism than having to write the word ‘crackdown’.
That’s because it’s almost always phony, a cover for a politicians to look tough, knowing the attention span of readers and viewers is about as long as a guppy staring out a fish bowl before swimming to the other side and bumping its head.
But here we go again.
In December, 2018 the Greek Not-So-Super Soccer League, rife with accusations of match-fixing, corrupt owners, and other crimes and misdemeanors in a sport where diving for fake injuries is seen glorious, was suspended after a referee was attacked.
That came nine months after Greek-Russian billionaire Ivan Savvidis, owner of the PAOK team in Thessaloniki that’s a thug haven, charged onto the field during a playoff game carrying a gun.
An arrest warrant was issued but no crackdown needed in this case because it was only one guy known to everyone – but the police still can’t find him. Just ask any hooligan in Thessaloniki for directions.
In February, a dozen PAOK fans were arrested on suspicion of killing 19-year-old student Alkis Kambanos, a supporter of their arch-rival Aris, and – predictably – there was a …… crackdown.
There were police raids and some clubs closed down, if not for long because they are important voting bases for politicians, and already the promises of a further – crackdown – have evaporated.
The government shut down all sports team fan clubs until July 31 and increased the maximum sentence for crimes of fan violence from six months to five years – but has reopened stadiums to full attendance as part of its easing COVID-19 restrictions.
“Hooliganism is a global scourge, a sad pandemic that has killed dozens of people. We must unite all our forces, whether it is the government, political parties or teams,” Civil Protection Minister Takis Theodorikakos said. Yawn.
“When we heard that the Greek state would take measures to fight the violence in stadiums, we just laughed, because we knew that once again absolutely nothing will happen,” a 63-year-old fan told Agence France-Presse.
“There is not a real political will to deal with fan violence. No law is needed. I assure you, after 40 years in the stands, that they (the police) not only know hooligans’ identities but also their nicknames. These people are not fans, they are members of gangs,’” he said.
Maybe that’s why during the police raids during the … crackdown … that an array of weapons were found in the soccer fan headquarters that looked more like arsenals of groups preparing for Medieval battles.
As crackdowns go, this one seems as doomed as all the others because all the government cares about now is moolah, accelerating an economic recovery, luring tourists, and forgetting the pandemic is still killing people.
In July, 2021, Greek authorities said they were “cracking down” on non-profit organizations the government accused of wrongdoing, none proved yet.
In March, 2020, Greece cracked down on refugees because they wanted a better life in a Eunuch Union country. In December, 2020 there was a crackdown on protesters thinking they had the right to demonstrate in an alleged democracy.
In September, 2021, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis vowed a crackdown on human smuggling groups ferrying people to Greece from Turkey, where they had gone fleeing war, strife, and economic hardship in their homelands.
And, of course, there are the usual crackdowns on anti-vaxxers during the pandemic but those have faded away faster than the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies epic pennant collapse still felt there 58 years later.
Impunity for hooligans, despite murders, was noted by Giorgos Orfanos, a former deputy sports minister who told AFP that few in government cared to wage a crusade it would lose, suggesting it was a temporary feel-good measure.
He said the fans of virtually every team and fan club united against him over the 2006 law going after them with tougher sentences for those convicted of fan violence, which resulted in a spike in trouble instead.
“About 20 people ended up in prison, there was an 80 percent reduction in incidents of fan violence, while the number of fans at football matches tripled,” he also said of the effect.
“You will reasonably ask me ‘then why did it change?’. I attribute this to personal ambitions. My opinion remains that these acts of violence are exacerbated due to impunity,” he said.
When hooligans are caught – shouldn’t be so hard because they are as known to the police as hookers on the corner – there’s not even a slap on the wrist, even for violence that’s seen as part of the extended game on the streets.
Let’s crack down.