Two years after winning the European championship, the Greek
national football squad has perhaps reached the final stop on its two year fall
from grace.

First it was missing out on this year’s World Cup, followed
by a lacklustre performance in a friendly against Australia, and now the
Hellenic Football Federation and all its members (clubs, players and officials) have been suspended from
international competition by FIFA. Though this time, it’s not the players’
fault.

In September last year, FIFA gave the Greek government a
deadline of July 15, 2006, to amend a national law on sport in order to keep
the HFF and its decision-making independent from the government. In a statement
released yesterday, FIFA acknowledged that Greece wasn’t going to meet that
deadline.

“The emergency committee,
made up of five presidents and one representative of each of the six
confederations, decided the HFF are not in line with the principles of the FIFA
statutes regarding the independence of member associations and the independence
of the decision-making process of the football-governing body in each country,” FIFA announced before detailing the sanctions.

In response, the HFF released a
statement
accusing Greek sports minister George Orfanos of “playing with fire”, and “leading Greek football to international
isolation and placing it outside the international soccer community.”

“The
reaction here at the federation is one of shock and surprise at the news,”
Michalis Tsapidis, a spokesman for the HFF said. “It is something that was not
expected.”

The problems created by FIFA’s
decision are immediate, with qualifying for Euro 2008 due to start on September
2, while club sides Olympiacos, AEK Athens, and Panathinaikos are set to
compete in next season’s Champions League and UEFA Cup tournaments. The decision also affects English football, whose new coach
Steve McLaren could have his first international match – a friendly between
Greece and England scheduled for August 16 – scuttled by the ban.

Peter Fray

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