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Last Updated: Friday, 1 April, 2005, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
Albania fans cry foul at Greek 'ban'
By Neil Arun
BBC News

The Greek authorities have been accused of intolerance after they prevented Albanian football fans from attending a tense contest between the two national teams in Athens.

Attack on Albanian flag in Greece v Albania match
Stadium police guard an Albanian flag after an attack by Greek fans

Greece won its critical World Cup qualifier on Wednesday night in a stadium packed entirely with Greek fans.

Despite an 800,000-strong Albanian community living in Greece, there was no sign on the stands of support for the visiting side.

Nor were any tickets issued for supporters from Albania to watch the game.

Greek authorities said they controlled ticket sales to the stadium as a security measure.

"We did not sell any tickets to Albanians, only to Greeks," a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Public Order told the BBC News website.

The only people who feel threatened by disturbances in Greece are the Albanians
Yanis Yannouloupoulos
History professor

Murder and rioting have marred past meetings between the two sides and fears of fresh violence overshadowed the latest encounter.

An Albanian immigrant was killed in Greece last September amid unrest triggered by the Greek side's defeat at the hands of its hosts in Tirana.

On Tuesday, a match between the two countries' youth teams was interrupted when Greek fans tore down an Albanian flag at the Athens stadium.

'Segregation'

According to the ministry, tickets for Wednesday's game were only issued to people who could present a Greek identity card.

As identity cards are held only by Greek citizens, the rule meant most of the Albanians who make up Greece's biggest immigrant group could not apply for tickets.

Greek players and fans celebrate
Albanian fans were absent from Wednesday's match in Athens

In a joint letter published in a national newspaper, prominent Albanians living in Greece protested against the measure.

They were backed by well-known Greek actors and academics, who accounted for about half the 26 signatures on the letter.

The letter accused politicians and media in both countries of turning football into a platform for "intolerance, revenge and super-patriotism".

Gazmend Kapllani, an Albanian commentator based in Athens, said the strict rules for ticket sales smacked of segregation.

"The model of the stadium could spread through society," he said.

"What will they suggest next? Separate schools for Albanian and Greek children? Separate neighbourhoods?"

'Ticket debt'

The Albanians living in Greece were not the only ones forced to follow their team's progress from outside the stadium.

Square showing football match in Athens
An Athens square provided an alternative venue for viewing the game

Wednesday night's match also went ahead without any visiting fans from Albania in attendance.

According to an agreement, 5% of the seats in the stadium must be reserved for travelling supporters when the two countries play each other.

But the Greek Football Association said it did not issue any tickets for the visitors because the Albanians had not repaid a 7,000-euro (4,800) debt.

Michael Tsapidis, a spokesman for the association, told the BBC News website the debt stemmed from tickets that went unsold when the two sides played each other in Crete in 2001.

'Racist streak'

However, the Albanian Football Association said it was sent an unsubstantiated demand for the money only "20 days" before the match.

"The Greek federation did not give us any documents to verify the debt," spokesman Lisien Nurishmi said.

Greek fan
Greek supporters were delighted by their team's 2-0 win

Mr Nurishmi also questioned why it had taken the Greeks four years to mention the allegedly outstanding sum.

"We had a match against them in September in Tirana," he told the BBC News website. "They could have asked for the money then."

Mr Nurishmi said Albania had complied with its obligation to provide visiting fans tickets for the game it hosted in September, and some 200 Greeks travelled to Tirana to watch it.

"It would have been better - more beautiful - if our fans could have seen the game in Athens," he said. "But it's all over now."

Yanis Yannouloupoulos, a professor of history and signatory to the protest letter, said the debt issue was a "last-minute excuse" to stop Albanians from entering the stadium.

As for the security risk, he said, "the only people who feel threatened by disturbances in Greece are the Albanians".

Mr Yannouloupoulos argues that the row over the stadium seats reveals a "racist" streak in Greek attitudes to the biggest immigrant group in their midst.

"And that," he says, "is a broader issue that goes beyond football".

'Successful security'

The Greek government said Albanians were free to enjoy the game at cafes and a public square in Athens fitted with a giant television screen.

A spokeswoman said preparations for the match - which included close surveillance and a heavy policy presence - prevented any serious outbreaks of violence on Wednesday night.

Three Greek supporters were arrested as they tried to bring a banner bearing an offensive, anti-Albanian slogan into the stadium, she said.

According to the spokeswoman, selling tickets to identity-card holders alone also prevented them from being re-sold on the black market.




SEE ALSO:
Albania restricted to 20 fans
04 Sep 01 |  UK News
Greek Albanians' woes fester
16 Dec 04 |  Europe
Greeks party with football joy
05 Jul 04 |  Europe
Country profile: Greece
22 Mar 05 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Albania
04 Jan 05 |  Country profiles


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