Following the previous deplorable incident of the death of a football fan at a match in Greece in September, a violent attack on an official of the Hellenic Football Federation’s (HFF) Central Refereeing Committee casts another dark shadow over the country’s morally bankrupt football industry. Ex-FIFA referee, Christoforos Zografos, was attacked and beaten by two men with iron bars in the early hours of November 14. The subsequent scurrying by the HFF resulted in the suspension of all professional league games in Greece as the organization ponders its next plan of action to protect its public officials.
Who is in charge?
The HFF has been toothless in the past at policing its members, choosing in times of crisis to “[bury] its collective head in the sand”, as Thanos Blounas remarked in a recent article. This incident is no different, as the Federation has failed to launch any real investigation to determine the facts behind the brutal attack on one of its members or take meaningful action to make sure nothing like this would ever happen again. As I’ve written in a previous post, the HFF is currently subject to its own criminal investigations into the 2011 Koriopolis match-fixing scandal, which has seen over 80 individuals questioned over their involvement in a criminal organization in Greek football. According to the deputy sports prosecutor investigating the case, Andreas Koreas, a referee’s testimony confirmed that he was approached by HFF officials to fix the results of a match. Another official, responsible for judging the performance of match officials admitted that, “the best referees and observers are not picked because they are not willing to serve particular interests.” It appears then that Zografos, had refused to play ball with the obscure interests running rampant in the Greek Super League.
The Koriopolis scandal and its offshoots encompasses club presidents, referees, bookies and players and involves millions of euros in illegal profits made from betting on rigged games. The Super League club chairman allegedly responsible for trying to use “policemen, judges, politicians and other powerful figures for [his] own ends” to fix matches is thought to be Evangelos Marinakis, owner of Olympiacos FC.
In an unusual twist, the shipping magnate came out front and center in the Zografos incident and denounced it as a “murderous attack” calling on all stakeholders to put a stop to the violence. Despite his own extensive record of violence, both on and off the pitch, Marinakis was quick to point fingers at AEK Athens owner and long time rival, Dimitris Melissanidis, claiming he had information that links him to the attack. For his part, Melissanidis responded to the accusations by underlining Marinakis’ own involvement in previous match fixing scandals insisting that those “people who have been summoned for some time now to answer to Justice and the prosecutors in the context of the investigation into the existence of a criminal organization in soccer” have no right to speak about morality and progress in a long corrupted sport. It appears that Marinakis, while attempting to shift the blame for the sorry state of Greek football on others, has actually pointed the spotlight in the direction of his own not so righteous past.
Football hits rock bottom
Even distinguished Scottish ex-referee Hugh Dallas, who was recently appointed President of the Central Refereeing Committee and Zografos’s boss, stepped down from the organization following the attack. His nomination this summer marked an attempt by the HFF to clean up the game by bringing on a well-respected foreigner to evaluate and appoint referees. His departure deals a new blow to any efforts to eradicate corruption among the ranks of Greek football, once again abandoning the sport to the powerful and crooked.
Despite these recent scandals in Greek football’s highest ranks, both the Greek government and the European community remain largely silent on the issue, making them guilty by association. Along with other European nations, Greece is a signatory to the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions, signed earlier this year – but so far nobody seems to pay any attention to the tresspassings of the government in Athens.
As football violence lingers on, Greece again finds itself both the victim and the culprit of an increasingly tangled web of corruption and lies. This leaves just one question: does anyone have the will and power to finally put a stop to this scourge?