You can believe that the New Democracy government’s alleged crackdown on soccer hooligan violence that spilled over into the streets of Thessaloniki with the murder of a 19-year-old student will be real when the first one prosecuted is Ivan Savvidis.
He’s the billionaire Greek-Russian oligarch who pretty much runs the port in Greece’s second-largest city, as well as PAOK – the team of which the eight suspects are fanatics, a number of them unprosecuted for earlier crimes of sports violence.
Wearing a gun on his holster, Savvidis charged onto the field in a 2018 title game in his home stadium, screaming that his team – many of the players aren’t Greek in the Greek leagues, but mercenaries – was being robbed with bad calls.
Witnesses said he threatened a referee – common in Greece – and told him, “you’re finished,” but the incident was so embarrassing to a sport that’s seen many a scandal, including match-fixing, that even the government had to respond.
So an arrest warrant was issued – for invading the field, which soccer fans call the pitch – but not for carrying a gun because he has a license for it, although the law doesn’t allow even most police to have a gun in a stadium.
So four years later he’s still a fugitive except everyone knows who he is, and PAOK fans, seeing the team owner can almost brandish a pistol (he reached for it) live out their sad lives vicariously by driving around looking for people to beat up. And kill.
The murder of Alkis Kampanos and the beating of two friends with whom he was talking on a sidewalk didn’t really surprise Greek society.
They were attacked by a gang of young men who tore out of two cars carrying weapons, including a crowbar used to hit him on the head, and a curved karambit knife which opened an artery in his leg.
Kampanos was a fan of PAOK’s rival Aris, which in Greece is reason enough to assault or kill, violence unmatched almost anywhere.
The headlines said the incident shocked Greece, but didn’t, and soon will be forgotten, along with pledges to clean up the sport and rein in thugs who are allowed to bring flares and other weapons into games, tossing fire on the field.
As happens every time there’s soccer fan violence in Greece the government promised yadda-yadda-yadda-this-has-to-stop-and-we’ll-pretend-to-get-tough to do something, apart from suspending the league and – if there’s another incident of violence – ending soccer in Greece outright.
“How can this happen over a soccer team?” the murdered man’s father, Aristides Kampanos said in an interview with state-run television, his voice trembling as he sat holding hands with his wife Melina, The Associated Press reported.
“This is something that must be healed. I want this to unite the city. (Thessaloniki) was where I was born and I think it’s the most beautiful city in the world,” he said, and he can be forgiven for anything he says over this tragedy.
But violence stains Thessaloniki, a city where the Nazis on July 11, 1942 – known as Black Shabbat – lined up all the Jewish men from 18-45 years old in the main Eleftherias (Freedom) Square and forced them to do humiliating physical exercises in brutal heat.
The proud, cosmopolitan city lost some 60,000-70,000 Jews during the Holocaust, most sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. And nothing compares to that, but Thessaloniki has also seen a rise in right-wing extremists attacking students.
Government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said tougher penalties and sentencing guidelines for violent fans would be included in a sports bill heading to Parliament and new operating rules for fan clubs used to stage attacks and store weapons.
Police raids in Thessaloniki and Athens on soccer fan clubs – focused on PAOK – discovered caches of deadly weapons, including Molotov Cocktails, knives, flares, crowbars, and metal and wooden batons.
So these aren’t fan clubs but hooligan hangouts and arsenals of violence that have been allowed because soccer is a big voting base for any government and the club owners are rich and powerful enough to influence elections and political parties.
“We will confront violent fans. It is our duty to society and especially to the younger generation, but also to our healthy sports community and the millions of good fans in our country,” Oikonomou told reporters.
New Democracy Interior Minister Takis Theodorikakos said soccer teams should be responsible for growing violence by their hooligan fans, after Supreme Court Deputy prosecutor Zacharias Kokkinakis called for no tolerance – but there will be.
“The fan clubs should be subject to constant inspections,” Theodorikakos said, similar to responses previous problems by governments not carried out once the headlines died away.
The Greek police compiled a list of 300 hooligans to be monitored, who had been questioned earlier, half of them arrested for sports-related violence, possession of weapons, and other crimes.
“How can we let our streets, parks, and squares become the stage for violence between rival gangs, endangering the safety of our citizens?” wrote Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, a former top high court judge.
“The damage inflicted on society by such acts will continue as long … as this barbarism and violence on and off the field are cultivated as a display of manhood,” she said. Nuff said.