Greek PM expels MEP Zagorakis amid escalating football spat

Zagorakis was captain of the Greece national team that won UEFA Euro 2004, and was also president of PAOK FC, the biggest team in northern Greece. [European Parliament]

Greece’s conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has expelled MEP and former footballer Thodoris Zagorakis from the ruling New Democracy party amid growing tensions between the country’s two football giants, Olympiakos and PAOK. But the spat over football could also spell some trouble for the government.

“The government respects the self-governance in football. But it cannot be blackmailed. The prime minister has decided to remove Zagorakis from New Democracy’s group in the European Parliament,” government spokesperson Stelios Petsas said. That means Zagorakis has also been expelled from the party.

Zagorakis threatened to leave the party on Monday (27 January) following the decision of the Professional Sports Committee (PSC) to expel the football clubs PAOK and Xanthi from the first league of the Greek championship.

Zagorakis captained the Greek national team that won the UEFA Euro championship in 2004 and was also the president of PAOK FC, the biggest team in northern Greece with millions of fans in the region.

Following a complaint filed by rivals Olympiakos Piraeus, the state committee ruled that PAOK President Ivan Savvides was involved in the ownership of Xanthi and decided to relegate both teams to the second league.

“I can’t stand under the same political roof with those who, upon orders from third parties, attack PAOK and Greek football itself,” Zagorakis said in a statement.

The Russian-born Greek Savvides is a powerful businessman who owns a number of media in northern Greece.  If the final decision by the primary disciplinary board does not change PSC’s ruling, he is expected to start causing headaches for the New Democracy government.

However, the government spokesperson announced today a legislative initiative by the government to avoid imposing excessive sanctions in cases such as PAOK’s.

Greek football has been in turmoil for a long time, with the competition schedule interrupted several times as the four main clubs have been bickering over the integrity of referees.

FIFA and UEFA have stepped in to sort out the critical situation but no major result has been achieved so far. In a recent meeting between the ‘big 4’ and UEFA officials, it was decided that more foreign referees should officiate national derbies.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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