Athens (AFP) – FIFA is sending officials to Greece to discuss football unrest, the sport’s governing body said Tuesday, amid a gun controversy that prompted the indefinite suspension of the championship.
FIFA director for Europe Bjorn Vassallo said a delegation would travel to Athens later Tuesday to discuss the latest crisis, which began Sunday when the president of Greek club PAOK, Ivan Savvidis, stormed the pitch with a holstered gun strapped to his waist.
“FIFA demands an uncompromising and robust approach in exterminating all forms of violent acts in football,” Vassallo said in a letter to Greek deputy minister for sport Yiorgos Vassiliadis.
Greek-Russian businessman Savvidis apologised for his actions Tuesday, but the European club association said it was suspending PAOK as a member with immediate effect.
“I am very sorry over what happened. I clearly had no right to enter the field of play in this fashion,” Savvidis said in a statement.
Savvidis, who has extensive holdings in Greece and is rumoured to be close to the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, was on the run for 24 hours after an arrest warrant was issued following Sunday’s incident.
His antics have put pressure on Tsipras, who is accused by rivals of allowing Savvidis to continue a rapid rise in the Greek business world in return for political support and help with privatisations.
FIFA is demanding swift results in the attempt to restore order, the latest in years of initiatives to stamp out violence and murky dealings in Greece’s most popular sport.
Savvidis himself said on Tuesday that Greek football is “completely sick”.
“Despite attacks at all levels, I will continue to fight for fair football and honourable refereeing in all matches, so that games are won on the pitch and not in courtrooms,” he said.
He denied claims that he had bickered with the referee and an official from PAOK’s opponents AEK Athens, and claimed his foray onto the pitch at his club’s Toumba stadium was solely 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, even though, owing to a ban on away fans, only home supporters were present.
The diminutive, bearded Savvidis was pictured jaw to jaw with AEK’s head of football operations, while PAOK’s technical director Lubos Michel — a Slovak former FIFA referee — is believed to have threatened match referee Yiorgos Kominis.