PIRAEUS - There are no football matches being played in Greece this weekend. Basketball, swimming, handball and volleyball events have also been halted by government order.
The country is mourning the death of Costas Katsoulis, a 46-year-old fan of third-division football club Ethnikos, who was beaten and fatally injured at a Sept. 14 game against local team Irodotos on Crete.
His death restarted a debate on violence, and widely perceived corruption in professional Greek sport.
Witnesses to the Crete attack said a small group of youths used brass knuckles and motorcycle gloves to inflict Katsoulis’ severe head injuries. He died at a military hospital in Athens on Sept. 27.
Three men have been jailed awaiting trial for murder, while a fourth suspect arrested after the attack was released from custody.
“The death of Costas Katsoulis should be the last in the long list of victims of the actions of criminals, psychopaths and the mindless people,” said Yiannis Andrianos, a Deputy Minister for Sport, who intervened to have Katsoulis flown to Athens for treatment.
“These people even introduce violence to third-division football, handball games, women’s volleyball matches, and even events involving children’s teams.”
Over the past decade, Greece has brought in tough anti-hooliganism laws, introducing mandatory jail time and lengthy match bans for offenders convicted for stadium violence, as well as restrictions on traveling fans. But domestic football continues to operate in a toxic atmosphere.
Major clubs still publicly accuse each other of rigging matches, team security staff are often implicated in fan violence, and supporters’ clubs are frequently targeted in arson attacks.
Maintaining security is complicated by the fact that major clubs have teams in multiple sports â allowing rival fans to pick low-policed events for prearranged clashes â while club bosses are often leading businessmen with competing interests.
This week, police said a far-left Greek militant group was planning to assassinate the Chairman of the country’s largest football club, Olympiakos, along with other prominent industrialists.
Greece’s Football Association this season turned to an outsider, former Scottish referee Hugh Dallas, to oversee the appointments of Greek match officials. But critics of the government and sporting authorities say bolder changes are needed to clean up the sport.
“We agree that respect should be shown for the fan who was killed, but suspending the leagues alone will not solve the problem,” Julio Synadinos, of the Department of Sport and Physical Education at the left-wing opposition SYRIZA told The Associated Press.
“Our first priority would be to investigate the financial and other relationships major clubs have with groups of organized supporters that is the umbilical cord of this problem.”
SYRIZA, which is mounting a strong challenge to the conservative coalition government, also backs education reforms that would teach children about the principles of competitive sport.
“Unfortunately in Greece, the prevailing attitude that starts from a young age is that supporters of a different team are seen as enemies,” Synadinos said. “We need preventive measures: To tell kids what sport really is about.”
Katsoulis was buried at his Cretan hometown of Platanias. Club fans and officials gathered at a church near Athens on Oct. 4 to attend a memorial service.
AP writer Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki contributed