Groups of rioters grip a few stones and violently fling them towards shop windows or other nearby glass surfaces. This has become a sadly popular scene in the last couple of years in Greece, especially on the occasion of general strikes and demonstrations against the austerity measures adopted by the now former government of Georgios Papandreou.
But violence is ruling in sports, too. Athens has witnessed a turbulent spring and the last dramatic episode took place last Thursday, when the first match of the national basketball league playoff finals between Olympiakos and Panathinaikos was postponed. The decision was taken after the bus of the latter side, who won the last nine domestic titles, was attacked by unknown hooligans.
It was nearly 8.15pm as Panathinaikos players and staff were travelling to Piraeus. The match was scheduled at Stadio Irìnis ke Filìas (“Peace and Friendship Stadium”), which turned out to be an anything but hospitable place, though.
Panathinaikos bus was crossing the suburb of Moschato and was about to reach the venue, when suddenly a group of motorcyclists flanked the vehicle. Despite the presence of two cordons of policemen, not only did they manage to approach the bus, they also commenced to throw stones and eventually managed to break glasses.
Greece international small forward Stratos Perperoglou and American power forward Steven Smith felt pain in their eyes and were immediately taken to hospital, where they were treated and successfully discharged without serious wounds.
Team-mate Aleks Marić immediately posted pictures of the accident on Twitter (left and below). “This is circus. Shame”, the Australian centre-forward commented. “Why do they mix politics with sport? Sport is something for everyone to enjoy”, he also added. On their part, Olympiakos express indignation but also denied responsibility for what happened. An inquiry has been opened against the unknown authors of the ambush, not necessarily Olympiakos fans.
Meanwhile, league’s organisers ESEKA, the police and general secretary for sports Panagiotis Bitsaxis opted for the postponement of the match, despite both clubs were keen to play. The decision was utterly criticised by Panagiotis Fasoulas, former Olympiakos and Greece national team player as well as former mayor of Piraeus.
This accident occurred the day after managers Dušan Ivković and Željko Obradović called for passionate but respectful and civilised support by fans of both clubs. Above all, it definitely ruined Olympiakos’ celebratory mood for the Euroleague won four days before thanks to a last-second victory against CSKA Moscow.
However, the playoff finals will not be subject to significant delays. The first match will be played Monday 21 May in Piraeus and the fifth, eventual one is planned for 2 June, as it has been officialised this morning. Particular restrictions have not been considered yet, whereas the police announced new, proper security measures.
Football was victim of violence, too. The Athens derby was staged on 18 March at OAKA Spyros Louis, home of Panathinaikos, and it was supposed to decide the destinies of the national championship. Olympiakos took the lead, but the match was suspended as Panathinaikos fans repeatedly invaded the pitch, burnt the seats and throw flares and bombs to officers. Consequently, the derby was abandoned eight minutes ahead of the final whistle.
Olympiakos were then assigned the victory, whereas their rivals have been deducted two points in current season and three for next one. Moreover, they were fined and forced to play the missing matches of the league behind closed doors.
The rivalry between all-sports clubs Panathinaikos, the team of Athens bourgeoisie, and Olympiakos, supported by Piraeus dockers, has been going on for almost 90 years and many derbies were blooded by episodes of aberrant violence, not just in one sport.
The Greens and the Red-and-Whites are battling for the national title for the seventh consecutive season and two years ago the fourth match of the playoff finals was abandoned on a 76-69 score in favour of Panathinaikos. The match started half-a-hour late and was suspended for more than an hour since Olympiakos fans threw objects and crackers on the bench where Panathinaikos sat.
Indeed, a women’s volleyball derby in the spring of 2007 tragically ended with the murder of 22-year-old fan Mihalis Filopoulos.
Perhaps, the most ominous moments occurred exactly one decade ago. It was March 2002 when the two rivals drew 1-1 in football at Apostolos Nikolaidis, with Olympiakos equalising in the nick of time as Serbian fantasista Predrag Đorđević converted a controversial penalty kick. Referee Ioakim Efhtimiadis was then approached by home fans and brutally beaten. A few months later, the basketball playoff semifinals first leg between the Greens and the Red-and-Whites was postponed due to riots occurred before the match.
Perhaps, this is the most evident rebuttal of the famous statement by Greek philosopher Aristoteles who stated that reasoning is what differentiates humans from the other animals.