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Greek football in crisis

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Greece is effectively insolvent and many commentators think that despite the efforts of the European Union and the IMF to prop up the economy it will have to default on its debts sooner or later, the first advanced country to do so for sixty years.   Now a major crisis has developed in Greek football and it is inextricably linked to the economic crisis and the country's problems of corruption.


Shipping magnate Envagelos Marnhakis is president of Greek football's 'super league' and chairman of Olympiakos, the country's most successful club.   He is also chairman and chief executive of Capital Product Partners LP, a tanker operator listed on the Nasdaq market.    His purchase of Olympiakos in 2010 was billed as a return to the days when tanker owners financed local clubs as a social contribution.  He is named as one of 85 alleged participants in the country's worst match fixing scandal.


Mr Marinakis emphatically denied accusations of colluding with a criminal organisation to rig matches, explaining that the allegations were part of a mudslinging campaign against him and Olympiakos.


However, for the Greek government, taking action is one way of demonstrating that it is fulfilling its pledge to tackle endemic corruption in the country.  Sports minister Pavo Geroulanos told parliament: 'There will be no more state funding for football, no access for teams to state-owned stadiums and no coverage of matches by state television unless the game is cleaned up.'


The Greek football federation, Epo, temporarily suspended its activities and warned that the 2010-11 league programme may be cancelled because of the scandal.  Two of its employees were among those arrested.


Andreas Andrianpoulos, director of the liberal think tank the Forum for Greece, commented, 'Greece's football environment has been unhealthy for a long time, with widespread bribing of referees by clubs to boost their chance of winning the championship going unpunished.'


Epo president Sophocles Pilavios commented that Greek football clubs suffered from weak management and a lack of investment in modern stadiums and football academies, leading to poor attendance at matches and frequent fan violence.   'Do we want a game with match-fixers, deals made under the table, exploited by politicians, a game with violence and threats?   We have to make a choice,' Mr Pilavois said.