BBC Albania fans cry foul at Greek 'ban'
Last Updated: Friday, 1 April, 2005, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
Albania fans cry foul at Greek 'ban'
By Neil Arun
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.
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
"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
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.
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
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?"
The Albanians living in Greece were not the only ones forced to follow their
team's progress from outside the stadium.
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.
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 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
"And that," he says, "is a broader issue that goes beyond football".
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.