Crowd violence in a semi-final soccer game between Greek clubs Kavala and Aris Salonica, has caused the country of Greece to suspend revenues earmarked for its professional soccer league, Super League Greece.
The revenues come from the state-controlled betting agency OPAP, which are worth a reported 40 million euros ($54 million) per year. This news is not necessarily surprising as Greek soccer has a poor record of crowd trouble and has been plagued by the problem again this season despite anti-violence advertising campaigns.
There is a lot about this story that, for my fellow Americans, does not compute. When we have a (relatively rare) fight during a sporting event in one of our stadiums, a team of large men in yellow “Event Staff” jackets, breaks up the fight, kicks you out of the game and sometimes (if the fight is bad enough) will even give you a one way ticket to the local city jail for the night. So we don’t have fights, at least not usually. To have a story about soccer hooligans costing their sport “State Money” is one thing, but to find out that the specific line of money that is being cut is State controlled gambling revenue? That just makes an American turn around and leave the conversation.
So for my fellows here in the States, I’ll try to make this story more palatable. While in the US, gambling is sort of frowned upon and limited to places like New Jersey, and California’s version of New Jersey, Nevada; in Europe, gambling is more like playing the lottery. It is just sort of something you do sometimes to test your luck and find a buck. As for hooligans and soccer fights, those are more like bar fights in the US. Young fans who have already had too much to drink go to a football match. Here they drink some more and sometimes, a group of equally drunk fans from the visiting team will be just hammered enough to say something upsetting to the young drunk fans from the local team. All parties being wasted and young enough that they have nothing to lose, start brawling. The same thing would likely happen in the US if not for the fact that beers cost $9.00 a pop and become harder and harder to get every time we do have one of our rare fan fights.
Right now the Greeks are trying to keep opposing fans out of the local stadiums, but that is just punishing the masses for the actions of a few. Instead the Super League would do well to take a page out of America’s book and raise the price of beer. Combine that with America’s no beer after the 75 minute mark and a no entering the stadium while “trashed” policy and many of the hooligans will lose heart for the fight quickly. Either way, I hope that the Greek teams are able to continue operations and find a solution.