The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Gun-toting Greek soccer team owner is ‘deeply sorry’ for his pitch invasion

PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis might have deserved a red card for this. (InTime Sports via AP)

Ivan Savvidis, the owner of the Greek soccer team PAOK, was not at all happy that his team’s 89th-minute goal was disallowed by an offside call Sunday against AEK Athens. We know this not because he railed to the media or demanded an explanation from league officials, as most unhappy team owners would, but rather because he decided to twice storm the field while armed with a holstered handgun and surrounded by bodyguards.

On Tuesday, one day after Greek Superleague play was suspended in the wake of the incident, Savvidis said he was very, very sorry for acting like a complete lunatic.

“I am deeply sorry for what happened,” Savvidis said in a statement on PAOK’s website (per the Guardian). “I had absolutely no right to enter the pitch the way I did. My emotional reaction stems from the widespread negative situations prevailing in Greek football lately and from all the unacceptable, non sports-related events that took place toward the end of the PAOK-AEK Athens encounter: the actions of the referee and his assistant, the match suspension, the protests and invasion on the pitch by many people from both sides.

“All that could lead to uncontrollable situations. My only aim was to protect tens of thousands of PAOK fans from provocation, riots and casualties. Please believe I had no intention to engage in a brawl with our opponents or the referees. And I obviously did not threaten anybody.”

AEK Coach Manolo Jimenez said otherwise, telling Spanish radio after the game that Savvidis approached referee Giorgos Kominis, showed him his gun and said “your career as a referee has ended,” Marca reported. AEK’s players left the field over concerns for their safety and the match was abandoned hours later.

“I hallucinate, I do not understand it, maybe in a Clint Eastwood movie,” Jimenez reportedly said after the game.

On Monday, Ekathimerini.com reported that Greek prosecutors have issued an arrest warrant for Savvidis over his pitch invasion alone, not the fact that he was armed during it. However, firearms reportedly are prohibited in Greek soccer stadiums, even in the case of on-duty police officers.

FIFA released a statement Monday saying any disciplinary action will be taken by the Greek football association. That country’s sports minister announced Monday that it has suspended play for the entire Greek league as it investigates the incident.

Superleague President Giorgos Stratos has asked that the government reinstate the league.

“It creates a grave danger and we are possibly moving away from our aims and objectives,” he said, again per the Guardian. “The suspension does not benefit anyone or anything. The suspension cancels out anything positive that has been done. The suspension endangers the entire sport of football beyond the financial consequences.”

Born in Georgia (the Caucasus nation, not the U.S. state), Savvidis is one of the world’s wealthiest people and former member of the Russian parliament. He’s also been described as a close ally of Russia President Vladimir Putin.

Greek soccer has been roiled by controversy over the past few years. During the 2014-15 season, the government shut down all pro soccer in the country on three separate occasions over fan violence that resulted in at least one death. Also in 2015, the Greek government announced an investigation into match-fixing by Olympiakos, the country’s most decorated pro team. FIFA also threatened to suspend the top Greek league over the government’s intervention into a dispute with its referees (FIFA rules prohibit government interference of any kind).

Read more from The Post:

Tiger Woods’s Sunday charge falls short but reminds us what we’ve been missing

Breaking down the NCAA tournament bracket: What the committee got right and wrong

The most likely NCAA tournament upsets for the first round

March Madness cheat sheet: Everything you need to dominate your NCAA tournament pool

Loading...