ATHENS – The New Democracy government’s announced clampdown on soccer violence and clubs after the murder of a student over teams rivalry is being scorned by fans who think it won’t hold.
Indeed, even after the killing of 19-year-old Alkis Kambanos in Thessaloniki – a supporter of the team Aris, for which a dozen suspects who back PAOK were arrested, attacks have kept up.
That’s despite police raids on soccer fan clubs headquarters were an array of weapons were found and which authorities said were used to plan attacks and not just watch games or TV or be a hangout.
The killing was the third in the city over fan violence in three years in a sport riddled with accusations of match-fixing and fans being allowed to bring flares and weapons into stadiums becoming cauldrons of unabated savagery.
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 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.
But in a feature, Agence France-Presse indicated that many fans think those are hollow, if opt-repeated vows to go after them, measures later falling off because they are such an important voting base for political parties.
“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 AFP, asking that his name not be used.
Similar measures were taken in 2006 but were repealed by a later law. “The political system is at ease when the stadiums become social relief valves and the real causes of this violence are not revealed,” said the supporter.
“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.
After the death of Kambanos in an attack that also left two of his friends injured, the police arrested 12 PAOK fans and shut down 13 fan associations in Thessaloniki, the report noted.
FLARES IN THE STANDS
The alleged crackdown though is just another in a line of them seen as trying to assuage public outrage temporarily before letting the violence and games – the league has seen itself suspended at times – go on.
Former police officer Athenagoras Pazarlis said he did not receive the support from the state that he needed when he tried to enforce the measures in the past, governments looking the other way.
“In 2012, when I took over the position of Security Director in Thessaloniki, the department for dealing with sports violence was essentially inactive,” Pazarlis told AFP about the reaction.
“We conducted raids on fan associations, seized large quantities of drugs, weapons and arrested dozens of people, including some who were on the payroll of a specific group in Thessaloniki,” he said, without elaborating.
“I was scared, not for my physical integrity, but for my child because I knew what kind of people I was dealing with. I did not have the support I expected. I never understood why they were ‘caressing’ these hooligans,” he said.
Impunity for hooligans, despite murders, was noted by Giorgos Orfanos, a former deputy sports minister who told the news agency few in government cared to wage a crusade it would lose.
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 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.
The new law effectively restores the strict criminal framework for those arrested for crimes related to violent violence as it forbids the “suspension” or “conversion of a prison sentence into community service.l’”
Former prosecutor Vassilis Floridis said he did not understand why the previous law was repealed. “The issue had been resolved,” he told AFP, and during his two years as a prosecutor of violence linked to football, ” we had almost no incidents,” then recurring.
“Experience clearly shows that the stricter a law is… the fewer people are convicted for violating it,” he said.