Thessaloniki (Greece) (AFP) – The Greek government has brought in longer prison sentences and a crackdown on hardcore football supporters’ groups following the fatal stabbing of a 19-year-old fan — but scepticism surrounds the measures.
Alkis Kampanos was killed in February in the northern city of Thessaloniki during violent clashes between supporters of the city’s rival clubs Aris Thessaloniki and PAOK.
It was the third death as a result of fan violence in a three-year period in Thessaloniki alone.
In response, the government shut down all sports team fan clubs until July 31 and increased the maximum sentence for crimes of fan violence from six months to five years.
The measures were voted into law on March 9.
“Hooliganism is a global scourge, a sad pandemic that has killed dozens of people. We must unite all our forces, whether it is the government, political parties or teams,” civil protection minister Takis Theodorikakos said.
But a leading figure in an organised Athens-based supporters’ group which rejects violence said he doubts the measures will make any difference to what has become a deep-rooted problem in Greece.
“When we heard that the Greek state would take measures to fight the violence in stadiums, we just laughed, because we knew that once again absolutely nothing will happen,” the 63-year-old man told AFP, asking that his name not be used.
Similar measures were taken in 2006 but were repealed by a later law.
“The political system is at ease when the stadiums become social relief valves and the real causes of this violence are not revealed,” said the supporter.
“There is not a real political will to deal with fan violence. No law is needed. I assure you, after 40 years in the stands, that they (the police) not only know hooligans’ identities but also their nicknames. These people are not fans, they are members of gangs.”
– ‘Caressing hooligans’ –
After the death of Kampanos in an attack that also left two of his friends injured, the police arrested 12 PAOK fans and shut down 13 fan associations in Thessaloniki.
But this is not the first crackdown — and former police officer Athenagoras Pazarlis said he did not receive the support from the state that he needed when he tried to enforce the measures in the past.
“In 2012, when I took over the position of Security Director in Thessaloniki, the department for dealing with sports violence was essentially inactive,” Pazarlis told AFP.
“We conducted raids on fan associations, seized large quantities of drugs, weapons and arrested dozens of people, including some who were on the payroll of a specific group in Thessaloniki.”
Then came the “threats from organised fans”.
“I was scared, not for my physical integrity, but for my child because I knew what kind of people I was dealing with. I did not have the support I expected. I never understood why they were ‘caressing’ these hooligans,” he admits.
– Going backwards –
The problem with impunity was also raised by a former deputy sports minister.
Giorgos Orfanos had “united” the organised fans of all Greek teams against him because of a law he promoted in 2006 that stipulated tougher sentences for those convicted of fan violence.
As a result, “about 20 people ended up in prison, there was an 80 percent reduction in incidents of fan violence, while the number of fans at football matches tripled”.
“You will reasonably ask me ‘then why did it change?’. I attribute this to personal ambitions. My opinion remains that these acts of violence are exacerbated due to impunity,” he said.
The new law effectively restores the strict criminal framework for those arrested for crimes related to violent violence as it forbids the “suspension” or “conversion of a prison sentence into community service”.
Former prosecutor Vassilis Floridis said he did not understand why the previous law was repealed.
“The issue had been resolved,” he told AFP, and during his two years as a prosecutor of violence linked to football, “we had almost no incidents.”
“Experience clearly shows that the stricter a law is… the fewer people are convicted for violating it,” he said.
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