Statements by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and UEFA President, Aleksander Čeferin

Aleksander Čeferin: We had a very nice conversation with the Prime Minister, very interesting one. We all love to come to Athens. We all love to come to Greece. We have a fantastic match tonight. But this time, it’s a bit different, because it was in a way tough to come. It was difficult to come. It was sad to come because of the terrible incident that happened days ago. We all feel sorrow. We feel outraged because of idiotic things that happened, of the violence without any reason. We feel outraged about some people that are using football matches for their crime activities, for violence. Imagine what kind of person you should be to attack another person because another person wears a different shirt.

This is “cancer” of football, and those are not football fans. Don’t call them football fans because they’re not football fans. They are people who use football for their idiotic ideas. I cannot be more polite, Mr. Prime Minister. I think we came -and I’m grateful to the Prime Minister because we have the same opinion here- we came to a position where we have to say “enough”, “what is enough is enough”. We have to stop this and we will stop this.

I’m very grateful to the Prime Minister that he also offered help within the European Union, because violence and hooliganism is not only a Greek problem. It’s a problem for all of Europe and wider, but we are speaking about Europe. It’s a problem from Scandinavia to Portugal to Turkey and all the other parts of Europe. We have to work together, not just the European Union probably, maybe even at the level of the Council of Europe. And here I count on the Greek government and the Prime Minister for help.

I’m calling on everyone, even you, the media, to help us to eliminate this “cancer” from society, not just from football. Because the media is very important here. You cannot in any way support any violence. You have to help us to work together and to stop it. I think we could do it. I think this, today, was the first step on the European level. We will do everything we can so that this terrible incident, an incident like that doesn’t happen again. We are determined. Trust us. This is not a political statement. We are determined and we didn’t need this meeting. But we spoke after the incident many times with the Prime Minister very openly and also self-critically.

We all have to do what we can and we can do more. We will do more, we promise everyone. Thank you very much, again, Mr. Prime Minister.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you, Aleksander. Today’s initiative unfortunately follows the grief of the loss of another human being on the altar of blind fan violence. Thus, our support for Michalis’ family becomes a slogan for action against this plague.

A plague which, as Aleksander said, is poisoning sports and our societies, but – as we have seen recently – even the relations between our countries.

Especially on this day, a day of celebration, when our country hosts the European Super Cup final. Normally such an event should only mark the peaceful meeting of fans from different teams and from different countries.

But, unfortunately, it is taking place in the shadow of mourning, because some criminal gangs wanted it to be this way – Aleksander is right, we are not talking about fans here – who, under the pretext of the games, travel to Europe and to organise deadly meetings.

This phenomenon is international, it is long-standing, it is complex, and it turns out that neither the tightening of penalties that we have introduced nor the prevention mechanisms that exist always work as they should.

At the same time, unfortunately, often the attitude of fan clubs, of associations of organised team supporters, even that of the press – and Aleksander was right to mention the press – does not promote a culture of coexistence, a culture of respect.

So we need to mobilise everyone and that is why the composition of today’s meeting – which was a productive, a substantive meeting – was broad. I would like to thank the President of UEFA, who was present, because our aim is one: to mobilise not only the national but also the European mechanisms in order to prevent violence and punish those who tolerate, encourage and ultimately commit such violence.

We need to organise European cooperation. The danger is now crossing borders. The fans of the countries must be united in joy, not in sorrow, and I thank Aleksander for responding to this initiative.

The State is already reviewing its network of policies on sports violence as a whole, a network in which gaps have been identified and need to be filled. However, we will not achieve our ultimate goal without the fundamental activation of the football agents – and I am referring specifically to the clubs and their owners.

That is also why the presidents of the four big football clubs are here. They are the first ones who, after all, have a duty to protect the investments they have made in football. Inside the stadiums, they too have a duty, a mission, to activate cameras, to help us maintain order. But they also have a duty outside the stadium: to inspire love for the club, not hatred for the opponent.

And concerning the tragedy in Nea Philadelphia, I will only say that the perpetrators will be found and punished. Already dozens of suspects have been identified. And let me say one more thing: Greece is a state governed by the rule of law. It has rules. Justice is independent. Neither the country, nor the Greek judiciary, accepts suggestions from any misguided voice outside the borders, even if it is official.

Inaction will not be tolerated. I pledge that we will not perpetuate pathologies, but we will dismantle them.

So this is what we are going to do. At the national level, as required by law, the clubs of organised team supporters will close. Each team will have only one association, now housed at the team’s headquarters.

We have agreed, and I think this is very important, with the owners of the four big soccer clubs, that the police will now have effective control in order to control the entrance of organised fans in those stadium gates that have caused us problems in the past.

This means that this responsibility is transferred from the teams’ security services to the Greek Police, who will also have the responsibility to carry out such checks whenever they deem it necessary.

And I want to point out that this is something that all four soccer clubs have agreed on, because they understand that many times the control of such violence can go beyond their capabilities.

Beyond that, there are other measures in our arsenal:

The closure, possibly, of the gates of organised fans, obviously in the context of the punishment of teams and matches held behind closed-doors. But I want to be clear and simple here: I really hope that developments will not require the Greek state to activate the ultimate measure at its disposal, which is none other than the temporary exclusion of Greek teams from all European soccer club competitions.

I am sure that we will not have to get there eventually and everyone has understood the seriousness of the situation and the determination of the state to tackle this evil at its root.

I believe it is very important that we agreed with the President of UEFA to cooperate also at a European level, possibly by creating a violence watchdog with the participation of many different countries, so that UEFA not only warns about events of elevated danger but also that there is complete transparency – publicly if necessary – about which clubs are twinned with which clubs and that UEFA itself is very strict in banning the travel of organised fans who are hardened and have succumbed to such incidents of violence. And possibly more severe punishments for such incidents with bans, nullification of matches and exclusion from European competitions at UEFA’s own level.

But we must also be honest: the phenomenon of violence in sports is not confined to stadiums alone. The phenomenon has often been transferred – and this is again not an exclusively Greek problem, I stress, it is a European problem – from the stadiums to the streets. It is violence with a sporting, supposedly sporting, background, with the old supporter fanaticism often becoming an alibi for criminal or marginal activities. Sometimes it also tends to take on ostensibly political characteristics. This situation is becoming an open danger to public safety, which is simply disguised as a sporting dispute.

That is why our reaction must be and will be comprehensive, inside and outside the stadiums. It must be in parallel with early prevention, with effective suppression. And we were the first to acknowledge, also through the Minister of Citizen Protection, that in the case of the recent incident there was a failure, an operational failure of the Greek Police, which must not be repeated. But it should also be unified and pan-European in constant coordination with UEFA, with whom I want to say that we have an excellent cooperation at all levels.

However, above all, it must be a collective reaction. From the state, from the football agents, but also from each individual citizen.

Because the kids in the stands are the kids next door, in every neighborhood. They are not enemies because they wear a different football shirt, nor are they armies of interests different from their own.

They are, above all, kids with their lives ahead of them who love sports, who love their team. It is inconceivable that anyone would lose their life in the context of some kind of fan violence.

So this “enough is enough” that we have been shouting, it is time to give it real content. To build on the progress that has been made in recent years. But it is not enough. And that is why we are here and I want to thank Aleksander again for his contribution and to reiterate that we will move drastically at all levels.

We owe it to the memory of Michalis, to the memory of Alkis, to the memory of other victims, but above all we owe it to the millions of fans. The pure fans who love football, who want to be able to go to the stadium with their children, with their families, for whom sports, and especially football, is a source of joy, a source of entertainment. And these goals that we have jointly set, we pledge to achieve them.