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Football: Austerity bites for Greek football

07 november 2012, 15:30
0
©AFP
©AFP
New austerity measures to be voted on by Greek lawmakers on Wednesday are expected to deal a further financial blow the country's football teams as fans find it increasingly difficult to pay for tickets, AFP reports.

Many of the European nation's top clubs are struggling to survive because the long-running financial crisis has led to dwindling crowds and ticket revenues.

Despite previous austerity measures the country is being forced to make another 18.5 billion euros ($23.6 billion) in tax hikes and spending cuts to unlock further international bailout aid and avoid bankruptcy.

But the toll of five years of recession on the country is already visible in crowd sizes at football matches.

On Sunday, a Panathinaikos-AEK derby drew a crowd of just 15,000 at the 75,000-seat Olympic Stadium in Athens. In the past it would have been hard to get a ticket.

Panathinaikos is averaging crowds of only 6,800 this season -- 53 percent less than at the same time last year -- even prompting talk of a return to the club's old Apostolos Nikolaidis ground, which has a capacity of 16,620 -- and cheaper rent.

But the club is not alone in its predicament: a quarter of the way into the Super League season, overall attendance is down 40 percent year-on-year. At one match between Corfu and Atromitos, just 676 tickets were sold.

Even Greek champions Olympiakos have seen attendance drop 18 percent, while the number of season ticket holders has fallen from 17,000 to 11,000.

On the pitch, many teams have been forced to get rid of their more expensive, foreign players and settle for cheaper, home-grown talent to help balance the books.

Some 60 percent of players in the top flight are now native Greeks -- up 20 percent from last season -- but the crisis has hit the regular payment of wages.

"Greek players are treated in the worst way by the teams, as if they are foreign immigrants in their own country," the president of the Greek players' union Stelios Giannakopoulos, said in a recent interview.

"In the three top divisions we have 1,500 players and every day the union receives hundreds of phone calls from colleagues complaining they have not been paid.

"The situation we are facing is not just difficult, it's tragic," he told the Ethnos daily, adding that some players were living on the breadline and many had even quit the game.

Giannakopoulos, a member of Greece's Euro 2004-winning squad, said that footballers earned an average of 80,000 to 100,000 euros a year three years ago but now got half that.

At Panathinaikos, players were said to be owed two months' wages, while PAOK reportedly owed some five million euros ($6.4 million) to current and former players.

Aris players had not been paid in the last 10 months and OFI Crete owed some two million euros to past players, as the impact of steep price hikes and heavy taxation is felt across the board, not just in lower leagues.

Panathinaikos president Giannis Alafouzos said the club expected to earn 25 million euros in revenue this season but expenses were 28 million euros. There are also debts of 27 million euros from last year to repay.

"We're looking at ways to get income. Half of the money we get from tickets doesn't end up in our pocket but goes on taxes and expenses," Alafouzos told club supporters.

"We are looking at various ways for the team to make offers to the fans and to make money as well."

Cutting expenses includes reducing free tickets given to players' friends and sponsors as well as limiting travelling staff for away matches. Alafouzos himself now pays his own way.

Top flight club Veroia last month made an 800-kilometre (500-mile) round-trip by bus to play Asteras to avoid having to pay for overnight accommodation.

The economic crisis has seen state-funding cut to sports associations, including the Greek football federation (EPO), while the nationalised betting company OPAP -- a major football sponsor -- has also slashed its budget.

The crisis has led to calls for a change to the way the Greek game is financed.

"In Greece the main source of income (for football) is from state funding. That has to change," conservative lawmaker Miltiadis Varvitsiotis wrote on the sports website gazetta.gr.

"The critical factor in this change is for the creation of an infrastructure for the teams," he said, arguing that already hard-pressed taxpayers should not be forced to pay for financially struggling football teams.

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