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PAOK owner banned, team docked points for violence

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) The owner of Greek soccer club PAOK Thessaloniki was banned for three years on Thursday for his part in violence during a match against AEK Athens, including running onto the field with a holstered pistol on his hip.

PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis, a powerful Russian-Greek businessman, was also fined 100,000 euros ($123,000) by the Greek sports court.

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The club itself was docked three points for violence that interrupted recent matches against Olympiakos and AEK – incidents that triggered a two-week suspension of the league.

The ruling gives AEK a seven-point advantage over Olympiakos and sees PAOK drop to third place with five matches remaining – unless the decision is overturned on appeal.

Olympiakos has dominated the league for two decades, but AEK is now favored to win for the first time in 24 years.

In fallout from the incident, FIFA said on Thursday a panel it appointed last year to oversee the troubled national soccer federation recommended the federation be suspended immediately.

This season has been roiled by ongoing allegations of corruption and political interference. The government this week ended a 15-day suspension of the league saying it received a commitment from clubs to back reforms aimed at curbing violence.

However, in its letter revealed on Thursday, the FIFA committee said: “Regretfully … the monitoring committee is of the opinion that the current situation of Greek football with its repeated episodes of violence does not allow the (federation) to guarantee a smooth running of national competitions.

“The monitoring committee unanimously recommends an immediate suspension of the (federation) from FIFA membership.”

The federation said FIFA representatives attended a meeting of its executive board in Athens to brief them on their findings.

Federation chief Evangelos Grammenos said he was determined to hold clubs to their pledge to reform.

“The changes will take time,” Grammenos said.

Dunbar contributed from Geneva.

Greek police seek gun-toting soccer club owner

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) __ Greek police are seeking the gun-toting owner of PAOK Thessaloniki and four others after they marched onto the soccer field following a disputed goal at the end of a league match.

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PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis walked onto the field accompanied by bodyguards, and appeared to be carrying a pistol in a holster around his waist. The Sunday match in the northern city of Thessaloniki between PAOK and AEK Athens was eventually abandoned after the disputed 90th-minute goal, which would have put host PAOK ahead 1-0.

Police say they are investigating Savvidis, who holds a gun license, for illegal entry onto the field and for possession of an object that could cause harm in a sporting venue.

Greek game abandoned after ‘armed’ owner protests decision

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) A disputed goal at the end of a Greek league match on Sunday between leader AEK and title rival PAOK led to a pitch invasion by one of the team owners, who appeared to be carrying a gun.

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Fernando Varela scored in the 90th minute, putting host PAOK ahead 1-0 in the northern city of Thessaloniki. The referee signaled a goal but then seemed to disallow it for offside.

PAOK’s owner, businessman Ivan Savvidis, came on the field twice and was accompanied by bodyguards. On the second occasion, without the overcoat he was wearing before, Savvidis appeared to be carrying a pistol which was in its holder. Savvidis made no move to use the weapon at any time.

AEK officials claimed Savvidis threatened the referee during his first foray onto the pitch, before being pulled away. They claim he also threatened AEK’s operations manager, Vassilis Dimitriadis. AEK said it will file a complaint with FIFA and UEFA, the world and European soccer governing bodies.

PAOK said in a statement: “After what happened today, PAOK chairman Ivan Savvidis is preparing all necessary procedures to protect the team and all his collaborators from the threats and attacks they have been subjected to. There will be relevant announcements on the issue soon.”

The game was finally abandoned after more than two hours and the stadium emptied of fans. Adding to the widespread confusion, there were claims that the referee, Giorgos Kominis, had actually allowed the goal. The score at the time of abandonment remains uncertain – 0-0 or 1-0 to PAOK – with the referee’s report still to come.

AEK claimed that the atmosphere had become too threatening for the game to resume, while the referee was reportedly in favor of resuming.

Earlier, AEK coach Manolo Jimenez had been sent to the stands, in the 83rd minute, for constantly complaining.

PAOK’s previous home game – against another title rival, Olympiakos – never started after Olympiakos coach Oscar Garcia was hit in the face by a cash register paper roll.

The latest incident has thrown the outcome of the season into further disarray.

“Images of team owners invading the pitch armed are setting back soccer for years,” Deputy Culture Minister for Sports Giorgos Vasileiadis said in a statement after the game. After claiming that the current season was the “cleanest and most exciting” because of the government’s attempt to clean up the game, Vasileiadis said “we will not allow anyone to divert us from our task, even if we have to, in consultation with UEFA, to take difficult decisions.” That has been widely interpreted as a threat to suspend the entire league.

After the non-starter against Olympiakos, PAOK was fined and deducted three points, the game was declared a 3-0 victory for Olympiakos and PAOK was due to have played its next two home games in front of empty stands. But an appeals panel decided early Sunday morning to void the points deduction and to allow PAOK to play inside a full stadium, although the result remained in Olympiakos’ favor.

PAOK says it will appeal again, demanding that the game with Olympiakos takes place.

Olympiakos itself is appealing a decision that had deducted three points from the team for fan behavior in a Feb. 4 home game against AEK, which it lost 2-1. The appeal hearing has been delayed at least twice, and the current Greek league standings do not reflect any of the current sanctions.

If a PAOK official is judged to have threatened the referee as well as the AEK official, the team could potentially face relegation.

In soccer games which finished Sunday, Olympiakos won 4-0 at last-place Platanias, Xanthi beat Panetolikos 1-0 and Levadiakos drew 1-1 at Lamia.

PAOK punishment threatens Greek title hopes

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) A sports court in Greece has punished league title contender PAOK for match violence, deducting three points from its tally and ordering the northern club to play its next two home matches without fans.

A Feb. 25 match between PAOK and Olympiakos was canceled after Olympiakos coach Oscar Garcia was hit in the face by a roll of paper thrown from the stands.

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The court on Monday awarded the match to Olympiakos. The ruling was not immediately implemented because PAOK has the right to appeal.

PAOK and AEK Athens are fighting to break the dominance of Olympiakos which has lost only two championships in the last 21 years.

AEK leads the standings with 54 points, followed by PAOK on 52 and Olympiakos on 47.

Greece: Fans detained for violence ahead of Dynamo-AEK game

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) Police say 18 people believed to be supporters of Dynamo Kiev have been detained for questioning after a bar in central Athens was damaged ahead of a Europa League game between the Ukrainian team and local club AEK.

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The incident occurred on Thursday, hours before the match at Athens’ Olympic Stadium.

Police are on alert after a Greek anarchist group urged Greek football fans to confront what it described as groups of neo-Nazis among the traveling fans.