Government backs Greek soccer shakeup

The government is backing a shakeup of Greece’s soccer league as

prosecutors begin an investigation into allegations of corruption

and attempted match-fixing.

The government has requested the Greek Football Association

intervene and take authority from the Superleague, the body that

currently runs the country’s top league with little regulation.

The GFA has also been asked to consider using foreign referees

for certain domestic games.

”The Superleague is not suitable to organize the championship,

given the current circumstances, the way it works and the behavior

of some of its senior members,” the government’s general secretary

for sport, Panos Bitsaxis, wrote. ”The government respects the

self-governing nature of football. … But the government will take

the decisions necessary to restore the credibility of professional

football.”

He warned that state-controlled betting company OPAP could

withdraw funding for soccer unless serious reforms are made.

On Friday, prosecutors began hearing testimony from referees

after a prominent lawyer handed judicial authorities what he said

were taped conversations providing evidence of attempts to bribe a

Greek referee and others.

The lawyer on Wednesday said the allegations included a failed

attempt to influence an Aug. 5 Europa League match between Maccabi

Tel Aviv and Greek league leader Olympiakos.

Olympiakos flatly denied the allegations, while other clubs

applauded the government’s initiative.

AEK Athens wrote an open letter to Prime Minister George

Papandreou, comparing the soccer scandal to the lack of public

accountability that helped create Greece’s financial crisis.

”Professional Greek football is rotten, an area in which

parasitic and criminal elements are served by an orgy of corruption

with the complete inability of football institutions to react,”

AEK wrote.

”It is a product of the pathologies of Greek society that have

brought us to the state of collapse that we live in today:

lawlessness, nepotism, money laundering, tax dodging, corruption,

blackmail, and the assurance of impunity provided by a web of

diffused complicity.”

Investigative magistrate Constantine Simitzoglou, heading the

soccer corruption probe, is due to hear testimony Monday from more

acting and former referees, sports reporters and the head of the

Greek FA, Sofoklis Pilavios.