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.


Former UEFA head Platini detained in Qatar World Cup probe

Updated 7 min 14 sec ago
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Former UEFA head Platini detained in Qatar World Cup probe

  • Platini’s lawyer, William Bourdon, said his client was innocent of all charges
  • Decision in December 2010 to award the World Cup to Qatar surprised many

PARIS: Michel Platini, the former head of European football association UEFA, was detained for questioning by French police on Tuesday over the awarding of the 2022 World Cup football tournament to Qatar, a judicial source told Reuters.

Platini’s lawyer, William Bourdon, said his client was innocent of all charges. The detention of the former football star was first reported by French investigative website Mediapart.

France’s national financial prosecutor’s office, which specializes in investigating economic crimes and corruption, has been leading a probe into the awarding of the 2022 tournament to the Gulf emirate since 2016.

It is looking into possible offenses including private corruption, conspiracy and influence peddling.

UEFA declined to comment, while officials with Qatar’s organizing committee could not immediately be reached.

The decision in December 2010 to award the World Cup to Qatar surprised many given the lack of potential local audiences for the games, the extremely hot summer weather, and the poor performance of the country’s national squad. It will be the first Arab state to host the competition.

Le Monde newspaper reported that prosecutors were particularly looking into a lunch hosted by France’s then president, Nicolas Sarkozy, nine days before the vote that awarded the cup to Qatar. Platini and Sheikh Tamim Ben Hamad Al Thani, who was Qatar’s prime minister and is now the country’s emir, were guests at the lunch.

Platini has since acknowledged that he supported Qatar over a rival bid from the United States in the vote, but said Sarkozy “never asked him to,” the newspaper said.

Two of Sarkozy’s aides at that time, then Elysee secretary general Claude Gueant and Sarkozy’s adviser for sports Sophie Dion, were also questioned by police on Tuesday, judicial sources confirmed to Reuters. Dion remains detained with Platini. Gueant is a “free suspect,” the source said.

The lawyer for Gueant, who later became interior minister, was not immediately available for comment. A spokeswoman for Sarkozy declined to comment. A lawyer for Dion could not immediately be reached for comment.

Under French law, suspects can be held for questioning for up to 48 hours.

Platini was forced to leave his job as UEFA chief after he was investigated in another case over 1.8 million Swiss francs ($1.8 million) that he received from FIFA, the world governing body of football, in 2011. He was cleared in that case.

As a player in the 1970s and 1980s, Platini was a prolific striker, mainly for Saint-Etienne in France and Juventus in Italy. He played in three world cups, captaining the national squad to the semifinals in both 1982 and 1986.