Greek football has united to disown the actions of a young AEK Athens footballer who outraged fans on Saturday (16 March) by giving a nazi salute as he celebrated a goal.
The action led to the midfielder Giorgos Katidis to be banned from all national teams by Greece's football federation EPO, within 24 hours of the offence.
Katidis, 20, a former captain of Greece's Under-19 team, made the salute in celebrating his winning goal in a 2-1 Super League victory over Veria late on Saturday.
‘Action injures human character of football’
“The player's action to salute to spectators in a Nazi manner is a severe provocation, insults all the victims of Nazi bestiality and injures the deeply pacifist and human character of the game,” EPO said in a statement.
Katidis was heavily criticised by political parties and fans on social networking sites following the incident at the Athens Olympic Stadium. The largest AEK ultra fans group, Original R21, condemned the player in harsh terms and expressed pride in the fact the club had been founded by refugees.
“Fascists have no place in AEK,” they said.
AEK ultras uncompromising response
Reports that the player had started to cry in the dressing room after the match were dismissed by Original R21, “Your tears do not convince us”.
Sunday also marked the 70th anniversary of Greek Jewish deportations to Nazi concentration camps in the Second World War.
The Greek FA have been praised for the speed of their actions although they have recently faced criticism for ignoring incidents of racism in football stadiums.
‘Where there is a will, there is a way’
Piara Powar, the Executive Director of FARE commented, “The actions of the Greek FA in this case shows that when there is a will, there is a way of tackling acts of racism and other discriminations in football quickly.
“The message that now goes out in a country that is suffering from increasing hate crimes against migrants and a rising far- right political movement is that fascism has no place in football.
“The outrage expressed by AEK ultras has been shared by Greek fans across the country; we hope this can lead to a renewal of self- policing and tolerance in football.”
Player claims innocence
AEK have asked Katidis to explain his actions and will decide his future at a board meeting next week.
Katidis prounced his innocence as to the meaning of the salute. “I am not a fascist and would not have done it if I had known what it meant,” he said on his Twitter account.
AEK's German coach, Ewald Lienen, backed Katidis. “He is a young kid who does not have any political ideas. He most likely saw such a salute on the internet or somewhere else and did it without knowing what it means,” he said.