Paul Pomonis reports on the corruption scandal that has dragged Greek football through the mud
Although news had leaked out about a huge scoop, the extent of the revelations about corruption in Greek football made by a famous investigative reporter, Makis Triandafylopoulos, left everybody breathless. On March 31, Triandafylopoulos presented live on TV a series of taped phone conversations made during the 2000-01 season.
On the tapes, various Greek football officials, including referees, were heard plotting to fix matches and openly discussing mechanisms of corruption. The tapes corroborated what the former sports minister Giorgos Florides (the luckless champion of the katharsis anti-corruption campaign – see WSC 172) had been hinting at during the last two seasons, namely the existence of a widespread underground match-fixing network.
The two people who stood out in the tapes were the reputedly all-powerful fixer Thomas Mitropoulos, whose brother Victor was a former league chairman, and his henchman, Yannis Spathas, the chairman of the Piraeus League of Referees. Spathas, who was shot six times in the legs in a mob-style attack in 1997, was heard on tape declaring that his sole concern was to ensure wins for Olympiakos and the small Athens club Egaleo. “The others can go fuck themselves,” he added charmingly. At least five first division clubs were implicated on the tapes, including Panathinaikos and Olympiakos, where Mitropoulos was a director from 1996 to 2001 – his job description included “the protection of the club among refereeing circles”.
The scandal couldn’t have come at a worse moment for the Greek league’s new chairman Thanasis Kanelopoulos. A week earlier, Panathinaikos and Olympiakos had met in a match that ended with a mob of the former’s officials and fans, led by chairman and aspiring politician Angelo Philippides, attempting to lynch the referee Makis Efthymiades live on prime time TV. Efthymiades’s crime was to have awarded a (legitimate) last-minute penalty to Olympiakos.
From bragging about the best season of the decade, Kanelopoulos suddenly found himself bogged down in a quagmire of corruption and violence. He had promised a better, cleaner championship, and a marked improvement in refereeing standards, an increase in attendances and – most importantly – a nail-biting four-way title race, suggested that he had somehow delivered. Philippides and the journalist Triandafylopoulos managed to debunk this myth.
In doing so, they also exposed a litany of problems that the triumphalist spinning of the new league leadership had pushed to the background. The worst of them are the continuing exodus of Greek football’s major investors, despite the added income provided this season by a new cable TV player (Alfa TV, incidentally the hosts of Triandafylopoulos’ shows); the dilapidated state of Greece’s football infrastructure and its failure to benefit from the 2004 Olympic Games bonanza; the increase in hooliganism; the continuing failure to agree to a stable league format; and the unwillingness to get rid of the people who had run the show in the Mitropoulos era.
And yet the Triandafylopoulos tapes offered the Greek football authorities the opportunity to show they had truly turned a page. The furore caused by Spathas and Mitropoulos bargaining over the price of buying a first division referee (fixed at £ 7,300) or a referee relating how he was ordered to book five PAOK Salonika players during one match so they would miss out on a forthcoming game with Panathinaikos, should have propelled them into action.
Instead, Kanelopoulos, the league, the Greek FA and the Ministry of Sport decided to do nothing other than hide behind the preliminary investigation ordered by the Athens general prosecutor on April 2, a legal process that experts say is guaranteed to produce long delays. While Olympiakos were on their way to winning their sixth title in a row, no action was taken against the officials mentioned in the tapes and no independent investigation was ordered. Giorgos Florides, who led the anti-corruption drive for two years, only to find himself relieved of his duties as minister of sport, will not have been surprised.
From WSC 185 July 2002. What was happening this month