ATHENS – Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis reportedly agreed to a secret deal to have Saudi Arabia pay for soccer stadiums in return for supporting the Gulf country’s bid for a shared 2030 World Cup bid.
The news site POLITICO revealed the agreement that it said was made between the Greek leader and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who is returning to favor after the CIA said he ordered the butchering of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
That sparked Greece’s major opposition SYRIZA, ahead of spring elections, to seize on the issue to attack the New Democracy party leader, with renewed attention after a Greek Member of the European Parliament, Eva Kaili, was accused of taking bribes from Qatar, which was hosting the 2022 World Cup.
“We want to find out why Greece is giving away the powerful brand name of a European country that is synonymous with freedom and democracy to Saudi Arabia,” SYRIZA aid in a statement.
POLITICO said Saudi Arabia, a major supplier of oil to the west, offered to “fully underwrite” the infrastructure costs for Greece and Egypt but that the agreement would see the Gulf country host 75 percent of the soccer games.
That, the site said, was discussed between the Greek and Saudi leaders in the summer of 2022, ahead of the Qatar event, according to a senior official who wasn’t named, no further details given.
The Greek government denied repeated requests for comment before publication of the story, the site said, nor was it indicated what Mitsotakis said about it at the time.
“There is a general sports cooperation with Saudi Arabia, it involves various actions but there has obviously not yet been any final decision on these issues,” State Minister Giorgos Gerapetritis told local radio. “There is no discussion at the moment about anything definitive, we are at the level of negotiations.”
Deputy Sports Minister Lefteris Avgenakis tweeted that the “article on Greece’s ‘buyout’ by Saudi Arabia for the 2030 World Cup is full of inaccuracies,“Contacts are ongoing between the two countries and Egypt, but they are still in the early stages of exploring possibilities for a bid.”
NO GOAAAAAL YET
The site said it was told by the sports ministry, after seeking clarification, that, “The main inaccuracy is that the Crown Prince suggested to the PM that Saudi Arabia would bear the costs of the event.”
The site said it wasn’t clear if Mitsotakis was interested in accepting the offer but that the three countries are still working on a joint proposal to host the 2030 tournament, which has generated criticism.
The world governing body for soccer, FIFA, is still fending off accusations of corruption including over the bid from Qatar, which had little soccer history and wasn’t competitive on the world stage.
The report said that Saudi Arabia would try to persuade FIFA by showcasing its bid as being spread across three continents because those games, if accepted, would be in a Middle East country again only eight years later.
SYRIZA said while it was in power for 4 ½ years, before being ousted in July 2019 snap elections, that it pushed a bid to host the World Cup with Balkan countries in order to strengthen peace and stability in the region.
“What exactly is the purpose, values and objective of the bid to co-host a World Cup with Saudi Arabia?” it asked. Greece’s third most popular party, the rising PASOK-KINAL said it opposes any bid with Saudi Arabia.
“The organization of such events as the World Football Championship, the Olympic Games, can only be organized with countries with which we share a common code of values, we have a common understanding of democracy, respect human rights and the rule of law,” a PASOK official told the news site.
The tiny left-wing MeRA25 party in Greece’s Parliament also opposed the idea, putting out a statement that said, “It is not possible that we have learned nothing from the Qatargate of (Kaili) and the Greek government is discussing the joint participation of our country with a country that murdered Jamal Khashoggi, treats women and LGBT+ people brutally and mistreats migrant workers.”