In yet another violent match between Greece’s perennial basketball rivals, Panathiniakos beat Olympiakos, 81-78 in the Greek Cup final on Feb. 10, playing before near-empty stands after riot police cleared the stadium because of clashes between fans and objects thrown at the players.
The win came six days after Olympiakos had beaten Panathiniakos for the league championship. They have played in the final for the last nine years as they dominate play over weaker teams with smaller payrolls but their fans hate each other.
The violence erupted with 7:03 remaining in the second quarter and Panathinaikos leading 26-17. Panathinaikos’ Stefan Lasme tangled with Pero Antic under the basket and headbutted his opponent, and was called for a technical foul.
The Associated Press reported that Olympiakos fans responded by throwing various objects onto the court, with one hitting Panathinaikos’ Greek-American guard Mike Bramos, who was sitting on the bench. Fans then ran onto the court and exchanged blows, forcing riot police to intervene — at one point using stun grenades. Olympiakos fans tried to storm the VIP section and tore off seats which they threw at the police.
The referees stopped the game and declared, despite objections from both clubs, that they would not restart it until the stands were evacuated. Some people remained in the VIP section, along with the media, the riot police and security staff.
Authorities, fearful of violent incidents, had already limited fan attendance at the Hellinikon arena to 900 from each team. The arena seats 8,000, but its capacity at the 2004 Athens Olympics, when it hosted men’s and women’s basketball preliminaries, was 14,500.
The fans were placed at opposite ends of the arena, separated by hundreds of riot police. But some fans still threw flares before the game, one of which hit Olympiakos forward Kyle Hines during warmups. Hines was unhurt.
Despite a history of violence, security is lax at the games and fans regularly bring in flares and other dangerous objects. Riots are common during Greek sports events, and there are frequent incursions onto playing field and courts at soccer, basketball, and volleyball games – even water polo – and people have been killed, but Greek authorities routinely look the other way.
In 2007, hundreds of rival fans of Panathinaikos and Olympiakos brawled outside a women’s volleyball game. A 25-year-old supporter died after being stabbed numerous times and beaten on the head with a bat. As a result of the frequent violence, visiting team fans are not allowed to attend games in men’s football and basketball.
Violence has been far less frequent at international games played in Greece because sports federations have imposed heavy sanctions on Greek teams in the past, including fines and suspensions from competition.