Greece suspends league after football boss takes gun onto pitch

Greece suspends league after football boss takes gun onto pitch

ATHENS – Reuters
Greece suspends league after football boss takes gun onto pitch

Greece indefinitely suspended its Superleague football fixtures March 12 after the owner of the club PAOK Salonika was filmed wearing a gun holster as he strode onto the pitch to protest about a disallowed goal.

Photographs and footage showed Ivan Savvides, one of Greece's richest men, joining a pitch invasion in the closing minutes of a clash with Athens side AEK with what appeared to be a handgun strapped to his waist.

"We have decided to interrupt the championship ... It won't start again unless there is a clear framework, agreed by all, to move forward with conditions and rules," Greek Deputy Culture and Sports Minister Georgios Vassiliadis said.

Greek football has been plagued by pitch invasions and violence on and off the pitch. Authorities have repeatedly promised to clean up the game.

Vassiliadis said the suspension was indefinite until all involved agreed on a code of conduct and rules; "On our part much tighter rules on issues of security," he added.

The minister said "all necessary provisions would be taken" to make sure the suspensions did not affect the national side which has friendlies against Egypt and Switzerland later this month.

Savvides, accompanied by bodyguards, walked onto the pitch at Thessaloniki twice on March 11, once wearing an overcoat, the second time with the coat off and his holster in plain view. He did not pull out a weapon.

He was held back at one point as he and others remonstrated with the referee, who had disallowed a goal from PAOK's Fernando Varela in the 89th minute. Up to then the match had been a goalless draw.

PAOK Salonika went on to be declared the winner after the referee reversed his decision two hours after the game and allowed the goal.

Police said they wanted to question Savvides for unauthorized entry to the football pitch. The police statement did not mention a weapon. A police source said the PAOK boss was licensed to carry a firearm.

Savvides was born in Georgia of Greek heritage and is a former member of the Russian parliament. He has holdings in assets ranging from Thessaloniki port to tobacco and media companies.

A derby between PAOK and Olympiakos Piraeus was called off last month after Olympiakos coach Oscar Garcia was hit by a roll of paper thrown from the stands.