Greek football club president apologizes after gun incident

Ivan Savvidis has apologised after storming onto the pitch with a holstered gun tucked in his belt. (AFP)
Updated 13 March 2018
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Greek football club president apologizes after gun incident

ATHENS: The president of Greek club PAOK on Tuesday apologized after storming onto the pitch with a holstered gun tucked in his belt, an incident that prompted the indefinite suspension of the championship.
“I am very sorry over what happened. I clearly had no right to enter the field of play in this fashion,” Ivan Savvidis said in a statement.
Savvidis, a Greek-Russian businessman with extensive holdings in Greece and rumored to be close to the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, has been on the run since an arrest was issued for his arrest on Monday.
He denied claims that he bickered with the referee and an official from the opponents, AEK Athens, and claimed his foray onto the pitch at PAOK’s Toumba stadium was aimed at preventing violence from breaking out.
“My only aim was to protect tens of thousands of PAOK fans from provocation, clashes, human victims,” he said.
The 58-year-old tobacco industrialist, a former lawmaker with the party of Russian president Vladimir Putin, is considered a political ally of Tsipras.
Flanked by bodyguards, he stormed onto the field in the 90th minute on Sunday after a goal that would have won the top-of-the-table clash was disallowed for offside.
Police have said Savvidis is not sought over the gun, for which he has a license, but for the pitch invasion, which is a criminal offense although it carries no prison sentence.
PAOK and AEK are in a neck-and-neck race for the Super League title, which would be the first for either team for more than two decades.
Tsipras has staked his political capital on resolving the crisis, insisting Monday that he would disregard any “political cost” in restoring order to the football league.
“We must all decide to ignore the political cost... It’s a question of will. Personally, I am determined to go ahead,” Tsipras said.
His deputy minister for sport, Yiorgos Vassiliadis, had told reporters after an emergency meeting with Tsipras that the league would “not start again without a new framework agreed by all.”
Vassiliadis said the government was in close contact with European football body UEFA, which he said had been “shocked” by the incident.
He did not rule out the prospect of Greek clubs sitting out next season’s European competitions, but insisted the national team would not be affected.
Global governing body FIFA said it was also closely following the case and expected a rapid resolution.
“The FIFA monitoring committee is closely following this situation and now expects appropriate measures to be taken, and rapidly,” the federation said.
It said a failure to take action “to eradicate all sorts of violence” in the Greek league could lead to the suspension of the Greek association from FIFA.
Dubbed “Ivan the Terrible” by adoring PAOK fans, Savvidis has put the club from the northern port of Thessaloniki back in contention after decades of the championship being dominated by clubs from Athens.
Adding to the complications for the government, companies owned by Savvidis are the main sponsors of the Greek league.
Savvidis controls Thessaloniki’s top hotel and recently also bought one of Greece’s top newspapers, Ethnos.
Last year, he was part of a Franco-German consortium that won a bid for the privatization of the Thessaloniki port authority.
But the deal was postponed after a Russian bank backing Savvidis was placed under temporary administration.
In a rare step, the US embassy in Athens later expressed concern over the issue, suggesting a lack of transparency over the funding behind the deal.


Virgil van Dijk sets sights on an awesome foursome of trophies for Liverpool

Updated 20 September 2018
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Virgil van Dijk sets sights on an awesome foursome of trophies for Liverpool

LIVERPOOL: Virgil van Dijk wants to create history with Liverpool this season as he set his sights on an unprecedented quadruple of trophies.
The Anfield outfit are full of confidence after recording six successive wins at the start of a season for the first time since 1961.
Having reached the Champions League final in the previous campaign, they opened up this one with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Paris Saint-Germain thanks to an injury-time strike from Roberto Firmino after the French champions had pulled back a two-goal deficit.
While pundits have suggested Liverpool should prioritize the Premier League, van Dijk said they have the belief to do even better.
“Everyone is excited, feeling good, wanted to be part of this,” he said. “We know the season is very long, four competitions to play and we want to win everything. That’s basically our mindset. You need to have ambitions.
“With the size of this club, the people around here and with the history, we want to try to win everything. It’s going to be hard, we know it’s something very difficult to do, but we are going to try. That’s what we are here for.
“I’ve enjoyed every bit since I arrived here and hope to keep going. I want to win things, create memories here and write history as well with all of these boys.”
The Dutch defender also feels rivals will see Liverpool as contenders for the big prizes having overcome Neymar and Co.
“We were not in the [Champions League] final last season for no reason,” he added. “I think we should have already got the respect, but this season is new.
“Everyone starts over and we need to show it in every game. We need to keep going, keep improving, but also enjoy it. It’s the highest stage.
“If you are going to be on the pitch and you don’t believe it [that you can beat teams like this] then you need to stay home. You need to believe in your team. I have the belief. I’m enjoying it. You want to play in these games, you want to play these clubs. I think it’s a great time to be a Liverpool player.
“If you look at the team, the whole squad, players who are not even in there and have so much potential, so much quality, it says a lot about our team.”