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.


Mexico win again at the World Cup by beating South Korea 2-1

Updated 3 min 55 sec ago
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Mexico win again at the World Cup by beating South Korea 2-1

ROSTOV-ON-DON: Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez scored a goal each to move Mexico closer to a spot in the round of 16 by beating South Korea 2-1 Saturday at the World Cup.
Mexico, who upset defending champion Germany in their opening match, took the lead when Vela converted from the penalty spot in the 26th minute. The Mexicans were awarded the penalty after Jang Hyun-soo handled the ball while trying to stop a cross from Andres Guardado.
Hernandez added the second in the 66th, scoring his 50th goal for Mexico. He hit the ball low past goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo after collecting a pass from Hirving Lozano.
Son Heung-min scored a consolation goal for South Korea in injury time, sending a powerful shot past goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
The South Koreans, who have lost their opening two matches, kept Ochoa under pressure throughout the match with Son often out-sprinting the Mexican defense.
Mexico relied on keeping possession and long-range shots, with a powerful attempt from Andreas Guardado forcing an athletic save from Jo in the second half. A volley from Vela skimmed the bar minutes later.
Mexican fans avoided using a chant, which is considered to be homophobic by FIFA, against the opposing goalkeeper.
The chant earned the country’s soccer federation a fine after the previous match.