Greek soccer assessing impact of coronavirus says league chief

By Karolos Grohmann
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Greek soccer assessing impact of coronavirus says league chief

FILE PHOTO: Greek Cup Final - PAOK Salonika v AEK Athens

By Karolos Grohmann

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek soccer will know later this month the extent of some of the damage to the game caused by the coronavirus outbreak, Super League president Minas Lysandrou said, after clubs this week set up a working group to chart the impact and plan for the future.

The Super League has suspended play until at least April 24 with the country in complete lockdown.

Lysandrou said it was still not clear when play would resume this season but the league had to work towards as seamless a transition as possible to the next campaign.

"The aim is to have the first results of the working group before April 24," he told Reuters in an interview. "This is not an exercise without time pressure. We need to record the damage and need to know the consequences."

Greek football has been mired in crises in recent years with match-rigging allegations and violence in the stands driving spectators away and triggering threats of sanctions from the government and world soccer's governing body FIFA.

Last season's title triumph by northern club PAOK, who also won the Cup for their first double triumph, injected much-needed life into a league long dominated by Athens clubs.

But with the country only recently emerging from a decade-long financial crisis, the virus could not have hit at a worse time, with Greece now projecting a 3-4% contraction of the economy this year.


PROBLEMS SURFACE

"The situation is not different from other European leagues," Lysandrou said. "There are already signs that the problems have started to surface after the first three weeks of suspension."

Some 67 people have died and 1,600 have been infected, with Greece so far not suffering the brunt of the virus like Italy and Spain where deaths have exceeded 25,000 combined.

"We as Super League understand the critical situation and we are in uncharted waters. We cannot risk speaking about dates because we have an unprecedented situation," Lysandrou added.

Lysandrou, a lawyer by profession, said the league was operating on two levels, combining information from the work done on European soccer with national health data.

"We have our eyes on two levels. One is the European and the efforts there, this is the sporting level, and then on the national level with the government measures."

European football is focusing on a restart in July and August. European soccer's governing body UEFA, the European Club Association and the European Leagues umbrella group told members on Thursday it was of "paramount importance" that competitions were decided on the field.

"If we stay united and take decisions in the spirit of sport and its commercial character, limiting the damage can be possible," Lysandrou said.

Presenting a united front is difficult in Greece with traditional heavyweights such as Olympiakos and Panathinaikos often unwilling to make any concessions.

According to sources, some clubs are currently eager to cancel players' contracts to reduce their financial burden.

"It is not enough to just manage the crisis now to get the best possible result. We must work so there is a seamless transition," Lysandrou said.

"Decisions can only be taken when the first results of the working groups in Europe in combination with data in Greece are in. It may be a case that one country can restart and another country may not."


(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris)