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  Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Greek tragedy
Olympiakos of Greece
Olympiakos - is the league fixed in their favour?
World Football's Panos Polyzoidis reports from Greece on the allegations of corruption threatening the very foundations of football...

Football is a funny game... It can send you to heaven, or it can drive you mad with anger.

Panathinaikos fans have tasted both in recent weeks as their club has been at the centre of both triumph and controversy.

Panathinaikos beat Barcelona at home and nearly reached the Champions League semi-final -it would have been their second time in the last six years.

Olympiakos have been implicated in a match-fixing scandal
Olympiakos have been implicated in a match-fixing scandal
But they also hosted a Greek League game that was tainted by serious disturbances and an attack on the referee.

Most non-partisan fans would agree that officiating was poor in that game against reigning champions and arch-rivals Olympiakos.

Alexis Kouyas is a leading criminal lawyer, a former vice-chairman of the Greek Football League and a former chairman of AEK Football Club, one of the "Big Three" in Greek sports.

"To those who know football in depth, it was one of the worst refereeing performances" he said.

"It was a derby between equally strong teams, which would decide the title or at least which clubs secure a Champions League berth for next season.

"The referee chosen had shown throughout his career in all divisions that he could carry out missions to execute teams, he is a referee who was catapulted to the top division thanks to his protectors.

"Irrespectively of the match result, it was a disgusting refereeing performance".

Panathinaikos - are the refs against them?
Panathinaikos - are the refs against them?
Right after the match Panathinaikos chairman Angelos Filippidis cried foul.

He branded the Greek League a farce and posed the question; 'how come we can't win the league, when at the same time year after year our team enjoys success in European competition where other Greek clubs fail?'.

He rushed to give the answer himself - 'Olympiakos have won the last five titles thanks to systematic support by officials'.

His post-match statement and the verbal abuse he threw at the referee cost him his position, as the sports court banned him from holding office for a year.

Just a few days later, Mr Filippidis's claims seemed more substantiated.

Makis Triantafyllopoulos, a well-known investigative broadcaster, came up with some revealing tapes on his television programme.

The tapes included recorded conversations from tapped telephone lines and appear to corroborate what maybe the majority of fans had believed for years.

Namely, that there is an organised ring of corruption, dubbed the 'The Hut', which controls refereeing in all professional and amateur divisions of Greek football, recruiting referees early on in their careers and ensuring they are promoted right to the top.

In this way, 'The Hut' can effectively decide which clubs win titles, which get promoted and which get relegated and at the same time control majorities in the Greek Football League and the Greek Football Federation.

"The evidence we have so far shows that corruption in Greek football is enormous" says Mr Triantafyllopoulos.

"It was organised by a mafia-like group of people, which controlled everything: club board members, referees, match results.

"It has become evident that the majority of matches, mainly but not solely in the top division, and especially matches that would decide top and bottom positions in each division, were totally under their control.

"In other words, they controlled and fixed results of teams aspiring to win the championship as well as those that were in danger of relegation.

"They did not only control match results, but also managers, player transfers and shares of proceeds from television rights." The tapes include the voices of high-standing figures in Greek football, like club chairmen, the chairman of a Referees Union, several referees and, notably, the person who allegedly controls 'The Hut', Thomas Mitropoulos.

Panathiniakos can't repeat their European success in Greece
Panathiniakos can't repeat their European success in Greece
He's a former member of the board of Olympiakos Football Club, a major stake-holder in another First Division club -Egaleo- and the brother of a former chairman of the Greek Football League.

He was not available when we contacted his office for comment.

Parts of the recorded telephone calls feature a person believed to be second in command in 'The Hut', the chairman of the Piraeus Referees Union, Yannis Spathas, telling one of his close associates that 'only Olympiakos and Egaleo should win - screw the rest of them'.

After the dramatic events of the recent derby against Olympiakos in Panathinaikos's Leoforos ground, Angelos Filippidis was accused of trying to give a political undertone to his club's complaints.

Andreas Belibasakis is a political journalist with a keen interest in football. He believes, Greek football is, to a large extent, the victim of its entanglement with politics and big business, and that what is at stake is sometimes far greater than just a game.

He explains how it all happened.

"It is true that businessmen tried to link political interests with their own, and to a large extent they succeeded" he said.

Luis Enrique of Barcelona heads in against Panathinaikos
Panathinaikos lost out to Barcelona in the Champions League
"In the Eighties, it was thought natural for any influencial businessman to own a newspaper or be in the media; it was also thought indispensable to own a football club which would be used to shield his business interests.

"This happened in the Eighties when the Vardinoyannis family bought Panathinaikos and the later convicted for embezzlement Yorgos Koskotas bought Olympiakos, and in the Nineties when the club came under the control of Socrates Kokkalis."

Mr Kokkalis is arguably the most influencial businessman in the country, a major supplier to the state and a fairly controversial figure. Recently, an Athens publlic prosecutor indicted him for a series of alleged criminal offences, among them espionage against the West for the East German secret services, the infamous Stasi.

So, in spite of doing well on the pitch, Greek clubs may depend on politicians and the judicial system to create an environment that would allow football talent to blossom and bring more success on the international scene.

You can hear all of Panos Polyzoidis' report on World Football on Saturday 13 April on BBC World Service. Check local listings for exact times. Or you can use the audio link at the top of the page.

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