Government spokesperson Stelios Petsas announced on Tuesday that following orders of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, MEP Theodoros Zagorakis will be expelled from the European Parliament caucus of the New Democracy party.
The announcement came as the latest episode in a series of events which followed on the shocking decision by Greece’s Professional Sports Committee to propose the relegation of Greek football champion team PAOK and the historic team of Xanthi out of the Superleague.
Before assuming office as an MEP in 2014, Zagorakis served as the president of the PAOK Football Club.
He has also served as the captain of the Greek national team which won the UEFA Euro 2004, and is one of the most beloved and recognizable sports and political personalities in all of Greece.
”As the country leaps forward overcoming divisive dilemmas of the past, it cannot afford to split over football,” Petsas noted while announcing the government’s decision to expel Zagorakis from its group in the European Parliament.
The government also announced that it will initiate immediate legislative action to make sure that sanctions on matters such as those discussed by the Professional Sports Committee will not be quite so harsh in the future.
Earlier, Zagorakis had issued a strong statement, warning that he might leave the New Democracy party and become an Independent MEP if PAOK and Xanthi are actually relegated.
”I cannot be in the same political group with all those who, following third-party orders, point against PAOK and Greek football itself,” Zagorakis had declared on Monday night.
The decision of the Committee, some members of which were recently appointed by Sports Minister Eleftherios Avgenakis, has sparked furious reactions in Northern Greece, where the PAOK and Xanthi football clubs have many thousands of supporters.
The situation has even come close to taking on ”Civil War” dimensions, since there is a long-lasting tradition of enmity between southern Greek and Athens-based football clubs against those from Macedonia and northern Greece in general.
Με μεγάλη θλίψη και οργή βλέπουμε για μια ακόμη φορά το πρωτάθλημα να παίζεται εκτός γηπέδου. Παρ’ όλα αυτά ελπίζω στην ορθή κρίση των αρμόδιων οργάνων.
— Apostolos Tzitzikostas (@tzitzikostas) January 27, 2020
Even Apostolos Tzitzikostas, the regional Governor of Central Macedonia, expressed his anger over the Committee’s decision.
”With great sadness and anger, we see once again the championship being played off the court. Nevertheless, I hope for the correct judgment of the related bodies,” Governor Tzitzikostas tweeted on Monday night.
It should be noted that Tzitzikostas himself is a prominent member of the New Democracy party.
The PAOK Football Club also issued a statement on Monday night.
”The Committee’s suggestion is a monument of the enslavement of its — supposed– functionaries to the mandates of its political boss. Mr. Avgenakis proved to be the representative of the Olympiacos press office, setting up a case whose sole purpose was to tarnish the history of PAOK, the team that finally put an end to Olympiacos’ impunity,” PAOK noted.
Eleftherios Avramakis, a SYRIZA MP from northern Greece, accused Sports Minister Avgenakis of meddling with the Committee to serve specific interests.
”Avgenakis chose to serve specific interests by manipulating the Professional Sports Committee,” the SYRIZA MP declared on Tuesday.
The supporters and fans of the team constantly chanted vulgar slogans directed toward Avgenakis — and Prime Minister Mitsotakis himself — during Monday’s PAOK vs. Volos match in Thessaloniki.
The fans are also planning to demonstrate outside the New Democracy headquarters in Thessaloniki in the next few days to express their anger over the recent developments.
Now, it only remains to be seen where these tensions will eventually lead, since football has always played a prominent role in Greece’s political affairs.