News 13 May 2015

Greek parliamentary bill to tackle football violence awaits UEFA approval

In a joint letter to the President of the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO), FIFA and UEFA have expressed their surprise at amendments to a draft bill to tackle violence in football, which threatens the ability of the EPO to manage its affairs independently and without the influence of any third parties. Article 17.1 of FIFA’s Statutes states: ‘Each Member shall manage its affairs independently and with no influence from third parties’. The bill was reportedly voted through the Greek parliament last Thursday.

Earlier this year the BBC reported that the Greek government was preparing to pass laws on violence following a series of incidents at a number of football matches. On 30 March 2015 a joint FIFA and UEFA mission visited Greece to meet officials from the EPO as well as Greece’s Minister for Culture and Sport and other ministry officials, in order to discuss the aforementioned draft legislation proposed by the Greek government. During the visit, Thierry Rezna, the Director of National Associations of FIFA raised concerns about the legislation, emphasising the great importance of the autonomy of sport and non-government intervention and extra-institutional football authorities. Rezna said that his delegation had seen the first draft law on measures against violence, had made some comments verbally, and that the Greek minister had explained the need to bring the draft law directly to a vote. Rezna’s delegation had then agreed to send written remarks within ten days or two weeks at the latest, as soon as they had looked more carefully at the Greek government’s proposals. UEFA reportedly sent comments regarding the draft law on 10 April.

However on 22 April this year, on learning that the draft bill ‘Emergency measures for the confrontation of violence in sports and other provisions’ had been submitted to parliament for a vote, the general secretaries of FIFA and UEFA, Jerôme Valcke and Gianni Infantino, wrote a joint letter to the President of the EPO Georgios Gkirtzikis. In it they warned that the adoption and application of the draft bill without amendments would indeed contravene the principle according to which all FIFA and UEFA members associations have to manage their affairs independently and without the influence of any third parties. The letter further warned of sanctions that would likely be imposed upon the EPO by FIFA and UEFA, including the suspension of the EPO, meaning that no Greek team of any sort would be able to participate in FIFA or UEFA competitions.

On meeting with representatives of the Greek government just a week after the aforementioned letter, Infantino reiterated that it was absolutely essential to ensure that the self rule and therefore autonomy of the EPO would be protected. However, he also acknowledged that progress had been made, confirming that he had received assurance that changes would be made to the law in order to include UEFA’s concerns. Infantino stressed that the priority of the law was in any case not to remove the [EPO]’s ability to work independently and on its own, but to fight violence and match-fixing, which he said were the main problems to be addressed by Greek football.

Following the meeting on 29 April, the Greek government informed UEFA of modifications to the articles of the draft bill as discussed during the meeting. However in a letter to Stavros Kontonis, the Deputy Minister of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs, UEFA’s Infantino stressed that there were still remaining points that needed to be addressed in order for the legislation to comply with its autonomy principles, and that failure to do so would be considered as going against the principle of self-governance required from FIFA/UEFA member associations.

Following a flurry of correspondence and meetings held between Infantino and Gkirtzikis, the President of the EPO, in early May, UEFA once again wrote to the EPO on 6 May. In the letter Infantino expressed UEFA’s surprise in learning that some new changes had been submitted that day to the Greek Parliament – the day the bill was set to be voted on – before reportedly having been approved by UEFA.

Local reports suggest that Kontonis is now waiting to hear from FIFA and UEFA about whether the law intervenes with the self-rule football regulation, as UEFA’s legal staff are yet to read the final wording of the articles, which reportedly changed during the Parliamentary vote. In his submissions to the Greek parliament however, Reuters reported that Kontonis, after thanking UEFA and FIFA for their part in resolving the issues and acknowledging that the discussions had been in a spirit of mutual understanding, sincerity and good faith, was confident that the bill would pass. Kontonis reportedly told parliament that the government had made a serious effort to avoid Greek teams being excluded from international competitions, and that its national teams were not clubs belonging to EPO, but teams which belong to the Greek people and give joy when they are successful. He stressed that the reasons for the legislation in the first place was that the situation in Greek football and sports was out of control and that the bill represented a large step towards tackling those problems.

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