‘What racist crimes?’: Greece’s new football chief

‘What racist crimes?’: Greece’s new football chief

A disgraced official who lost his job over colluding with Nazis is now running Greece’s football federation.

Greece’s national football team has been struggling on the pitch since Fernando Santos led the side to its first ever knockout round at a FIFA World Cup in 2014. Greece, which lost to the Faroe Islands home and away soon after Santos left for Portugal, is hoping to revive its fortunes under ex-Chelsea manager Gus Poyet. Wins at Belfast and Pristina last week might help the once European Champions get promoted out of the UEFA Nation League’s third tier.

Off the pitch, the Hellenic Football Federation — Greece’s FA — has not been faring much better. FIFA imposed a temporary administration in 2016 following accusations of blackmail and fraud. A Greek court found three of the federation’s former presidents guilty of embezzlement. The FIFA Monitoring Committee asked for the “immediate suspension of the HFF from FIFA membership” a few weeks after a club owner took to the pitch with a gun on his hip. The appointment of foreign head referees such as Hugh Dallas and Mark Clattenburg has done little to regain fan trust in domestic competitions.

Theodoros Zagorakis, who once lifted the UEFA Euro 2004 trophy as Greece’s captain, was elected HFF President unopposed in March 2021. Zagorakis, who is also a Member of the European Parliament for Greece’s governing conservatives, resigned a few months later saying it was not yet time for the changes necessary to save Greece’s football.

Last week, HFF elected Takis Baltakos to replace Zagorakis at the top of Greece’s football hierarchy. Baltakos is a lawyer who has represented sports bodies and clubs for the last three decades. He is better known though in Greece as that government official who got sacked over colluding with the Golden Dawn, Greece’s since-proscribed neo-Nazi party.

Back in 2013, Greece was once again governed by the conservative Nea Dimokratia. Baltakos, a senior aide to then-PM Antonis Samaras, was caught on camera telling a Golden Dawn MP that there was “no evidence” against the party in their criminal trial. This video was apparently part of Baltakos’ systematic engagement with the since imprisoned Golden Dawn leadership. Samaras, who denied knowledge of any collusion with the far right, sacked Baltakos, who went on to form two failed nationalist political parties.

Even though he was sacked over that video, Baltakos had made his politics clear while in government. According to a member of Greece’s human rights watchdog, Baltakos said “I am not interested in human rights” and that there was no such thing as racist crimes in Greece. That government’s Justice Minister accused HFF’s new president of blocking antiracist legislation. Baltakos also wondered, in public, “why should opposition to homosexuality be criminalized?”

Banners glorifying genocide and racist abuse targeted at a Liverpool legend are just two examples of Greece’s outright pathetic track record at tackling discrimination in football. Only one professional football club in Greece has celebrated LGBTI rights (and that was only last year). A search on the Greek FA’s website fails to return any mention of the word ‘racism’ since 2009, even though the HFF has since been sanctioned by UEFA for racist fan behaviour.

Under the leadership of a man who believed that migrants ‘taint’ Greek society, let alone thought that racism is not a problem, the HFF is unlikely to do any better.