Third Time Unhappy

The national federation of Greece has suspended soccer in the top three tiers indefinitely.

Again.

Anyone reasonably up on reading the world-news section of the paper should be well aware of the hardships Greece as a nation has undergone as a result of the Great Recession. Some nations have bounced back. Greece has not. They haven’t even really begun to bounce back. In 2009 and 2010, Moody’s, Standard & Poor, and Fitch all downgraded Greece’s previously-healthy credit rating to junk bond status, which it has yet to recover from. As a condition of receiving a bailout from the EU, the EU, led by Germany, demanded Greece enact ‘austerity’ measures. which they not only did but have had to keep doing as the bailout money proves insufficient. Services and pensions have been cut, government salaries frozen, jobs vanished, taxes raised, the retirement age raised, the minimum wage slashed, job security laws gutted, industry deregulated.

Wikipedia lists seven separate sets of austerity measures. The eighth is on the way despite the government’s efforts to ward off further EU influence. The public demonstrations in protest of foreign influence on the affairs of Greek citizens were not far behind. Eventually, there were bans on protests. There were defiances of the bans on protests. There were riots. And then there were more austerity measures. There’s been steady discussion over whether Greece should leave the Eurozone entirely in an attempt to escape the EU’s hand, returning to the drachma that it abandoned in 2002. Recent protests have carried the slogan “Bankrupt but free”, saying much about where priorities lay if it comes to it.

The Greek people have become highly emotionally frayed, and the high-stress environment of soccer hasn’t made things any better. On September 15, a fight between third-tier clubs P.A.S.A. Irodotus and visiting Ethnikos Piraeus resulted in the eventual death of 46-year-old Ethnikos supporter Costas Katsoulis, triggering the season’s first suspension of soccer (as well as basketball and handball). Irodotus, for its part, got docked 15 points and was ordered to play ten games behind closed doors.

The second came after Christoforos Zografos, assistant director of the Central Refereeing Committee, was beaten with wooden clubs by two men on a motorcycle.early in the morning on November 14. No referees were called upon to work games that weekend, thus, no games took place. It came in the wake of Scotsman Hugh Dallas being named head of the committee, an effort by the national federation trying to stem the tide of recent match-fixing scandals by hiring from outside the country. Zografos is the third referee beaten in Greece in the last two years; Dallas has gotten death threats.

This third suspension is the result of two more brawls, between the same clubs, top-flight rivals Olympiakos and Panathinakos. The first happened between fans the day of the recent game between them, won by Panathinakos 2-1 to bring them within three points of league-leading Olympiakos. Panathinakos supporters, unopposed due to rules barring away visitors from entry to try and curb violence, decided to attack the opposing team itself. Before the game, they hurled objects at Olympiakos players and invaded the pitch, almost stopping the game before it started. At the close of the game, in the seventh minute of injury time, they were at it again to a degree that the referee decided to blow the whistle and get it over with.

The second brawl happened in the boardroom, with team officials fighting during a league meeting on Tuesday to discuss the incident.

Soccer is being suspended as an attempt to curb violence at games. However, violence, and the high-strung environment that’s enabled it, has been in no short supply anywhere else in Greece either, neither now nor anytime else since the recession hit. As long as that persists, one can hardly expect soccer to fare better than anything else. Soccer is a place where many people go to vent their outside social grievances; to expect it to be scrubbed of violence and its variants seems a fool’s errand until Greece’s economic crisis has some sort of end in sight.

For now, it isn’t.

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