Greek National Soccer Team Bans Player For Life After Nazi Salute

greek soccer

Giorgos Katidis, the Greek soccer player who celebrated a goal Saturday by giving the crowd at Athens’ Olympic Stadium the Nazi salute, has been banned for life from playing on Greece’s national team by the country’s soccer federation.

Katidis is only 20 years old. He claims he was unaware of the significance of the salute and his coach, Ewald Lienen, who hails from Germany and, thus, most likely does understand the salute’s significance, has similarly claimed the young player has no idea about politics. That may be true, but it would also mean he has no idea about history or popular culture, for that matter. It’s one thing to say he has no association with Golden Dawn, the country’s far-right political party, which has been labeled in the media as a neo-Nazi party, but are you honestly telling me he’s never seen a movie in which the bad guys are the Nazis? I find that extremely difficult to believe.

Even if Katidis’s statement of innocence is true, there would still be a reason for concern. Ignorance is the food upon which extremism feeds—ignorance and fear. Katidis’s salute comes during a time of political instability. The Greek economy has been on its death bed for how long, the European Union has coughed up not one, but two bailouts to avoid a complete collapse whose shock waves would be felt throughout the continent, and the Greek electorate has rioted against the austerity measures the Greek parliament voted to accept as part of the most recent bailout package.

In the middle of this political instability, the Greek electorate, as so many electorates before them in history have done, has moved to the extremes. In the 2012 parliamentary elections, the Golden Dawn gained 7% of the national vote, good enough for 21 seats in Parliament. And news comes just today of a run on banks in neighboring Cyprus after word leaked that the bank deposits would be taxed as a means to offset the cost of a bailout there.

Now, I’m not one to sacrifice a stupid 20 year-old kid on the altar of European integration. I would prefer he be punished and rehabilitated, if that’s even possible. The bigger concern for Greek officials is, however, what the salute augers for broader demographic and electoral trends in the country.

Fortunately for Katidis, the ban, right now, is not much more than symbolic. Though he has in the past played on junior national teams, he has never played for the senior side and it isn’t certain he ever would have.

The real sanctions are yet to come. Katidis’s team, AEK Athens, and the Greek league in which the team competes are still deciding what their responses will be, and what they decide could have significantly more bite than being banned from the national team. If, for instance, the league were to decide to ban him for life, that would present a real problem for Katidis because I’m not sure in how many other leagues in Europe he would be welcome.

Photo: AP/File

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About Liam Day

Liam Day has been a youth worker, teacher, campaign manager, political pundit, communications director, and professional basketball player. His poems have appeared at Slow Trains Apt, and Wilderness House Literary Review. His op-eds and essays have appeared in Annalemma Stymie, the Boston Globe and Boston Herald. He lives in Boston, where he works as a public health professional. He is the Sports Editor at The Good Men Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @LiamDay7.

Comments

  1. wellokaythen says:

    “I would prefer he be punished and rehabilitated, if that’s even possible.”

    No matter how repellant his salute, I would still argue he should have some freedom of expression. We can’t celebrate freedom of expression only when we like the symbol and then call for punishment and rehabilitation when we don’t like the symbol. As a private organization, the league has a right to ban anyone for overt political or partisan expressions, but he hasn’t done anything illegal, has he?

    I also shudder to think what form “rehabilitation” might take, because there are attempts to “fix” people that are pretty much as bad as what the Nazis did. Perhaps a re-education camp for the young man? Don’t make the cure as bad as the disease.

    • Wellokaythen,

      That’s a fair point, and poor word choice on my part. I was trying to squeeze the post in between meetings. Perhaps reengaged would have been a better word.

      What I was trying to convey is that I don’t want the kid to be banned outright from a career in soccer based on this one incident, no matter how inflammatory, because I tend to agree with you regarding the kid’s right to freedom of expression. Though it should also be born in mind that such a freedom looks different in Europe than it does here in America.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Liam

      • soullite says:

        No, freedom looks the same everywhere. Europe just doesn’t actually believe in it.

        • how can there be freedom without understand of the realities, the context, the social infrastructures, the histories on the ground of different peoples. and how a policy, a law will interplay and overlay against these.
          one size does not fit all.

          an economic example of this:
          yeltsin’s russia during the 90s applied american economic principles wholesale and instantly. this did not create a western style economy and prosperity as had been hoped – instead living standards collapsed, disorder, gangsterism, the corruption rose markedly. some people were totally surprised, but the social, legal etc infrastructures werent there to support an american style economy, just after the soviet system

        • soullite,

          Your comment raises a thought experiment. What would the NFL’s reaction be if a member of the New England Patriots did the same thing celebrating a touchdown? Would the USOC ban an athlete from representing the United States in the Olympics for doing the same thing?

          Liam

          • wellokaythen says:

            Or, what if a Cleveland Indians player or Washington Redskins player mimicked the icon on his hat or helmet? What if a player could get away with the same things that fans can get away with? It seems like anything acceptable on a helmet is acceptable for a player to dress as, so we ought to have no problem with RG3 dressing as a “redskin.”

        • So, soullite, are you saying that there’s such a great respect for “freedom” in the States that it’s unthinkable that an employer would go and fire a staff member who made an overt, public (and unpopular) political statement on the job – say, for fear of being tainted by the incident?

          Do you think the US national team in soccer (or hockey or whatever) would be fine with players making Nazi salutes? The US OC backed Smith and Carlos in Mexico (commendably so), but a Nazi salute os something else.

        • “No, freedom looks the same everywhere. Europe just doesn’t actually believe in it.”
          *lol* Not sure if I should find that funny or sad… So “Freedom” is the same all over the world? One definition fits all? Let’s see… No discussions about the definition of freedom, the limits of freedom in the USA? When does Freedom end and let’s say insults start? “Absolute Freedom” has never worked and will never work. And well, Europe does believe in “Freedom”. Due to it’s history and it’s past it just does realize that reality sometimes needs regulation. And that a mere concept of “freedom” alone doesn’t solve everything. And the changes of the freedom concept in the USA after 9/11 should make it clear that it’s not such an easy topic and definition after all…
          And yes, Europe is more sensitive when it comes to these symbols, gestures and political views of the far right. Because we know from first hand experience where it leads to and what is behind it. Even the Nazi Party in germany before WW2 argued with the concept of Freedom…

    • wello,
      there was a discussion about this on the radio today. said that sunday, was the anniversary of the deportation of jewish people from greece during ww2

    • Um – so far the *league* hasn’t done anything at all. That national soccer organization of Greece has said they really can’t see a guy doing something like that (be it a political statement or ignorance) representing Greece.

      He just has to his team (employer) does not make the same decision.

      Now, had he lived in Germany, his action most likely would have been illegal. I don’t think that’s the case in Greece.

  2. PursuitAce says:

    He pleads ignorance but WTH is he doing then? No explanation forthcoming I guess…

    • wellokaythen says:

      Yeah, I’m not sure how one makes such a salute by accident. He just likes 45-degree angles or something?

  3. wellokaythen says:

    Ultranationalism in soccer? Shocker.

    Yes, let’s make sure European soccer won’t be associated with extreme forms of nationalism, hostility between national groups, or violence. Better to maintain the pristine, tolerant, pacifist image of Europe’s national football teams. Heaven forbid anyone get too nationalistic when it comes to their country’s football team, or else people might think soccer is an extremely nationalistic sport. I suppose “England” and “Scotland” are just brand names?

    (While we’re at it, let’s keep baseball players from spitting and keep the Yankees-Red Sox games free of open hostility. New Yorkers and Bostonians are all part of one big happy family, right?)

    C’mon, Americans, let’s not get too high and mighty. Is it still okay for Braves or Seminoles fans to do the tomahawk chop? As long as the palm faces the right way it’s not racist.)

    Honestly, I’m just surprised that other soccer player-hooligans haven’t been more blatant before this. Perhaps Europeans prefer signs of disorganized ultranationalistic rabble to signs of ultranationalistic partisanship. Better thugs without a political party than thugs with a political party. His salute looks pretty crisp, but he does not really have the facial hair of a good fascist. I doubt he would keep his boots well-polished or his uniform pressed.

    If I had to guess, I’d guess that Greek football teams don’t have as many players from South America or Africa as the sport does in Western Europe and Italy. More and more the teams are becoming international teams, which tends to force some degree of racial tolerance. Eventually all European soccer matches will become competitions between multi-racial multinational teams, my Brazilian players versus your Brazilian players, the way that MLB is my Japanese pitcher against your Latin American batter.

    • If I had to guess, I’d guess that Greek football teams don’t have as many players from South America or Africa as the sport does in Western Europe and Italy

      A quick look at the squad for Panathinaikos F.C. (the Greek team I could think of off the top of my head) shows 15 non-Greek players on contract out of 32, of those 4 from Africa and 3 from South America + the assorted Portugese, Spanish, Dutch etc.

      So, yeah – European club soccer teams are pretty much multi-national, multi-racial affairs. Much like NHL teams, I guess.

  4. I have followed this controversy for a few days, I definitely agree that doing a Nazi salute as a goal celebration is highly inappropriate and insensitive to victims and descendants of holocaust victims and survivors. It is my opinion that a life ban from playing all forms of football would be harsh and unfair to young man especially since he was ignorant about the whole situation. Another thought that came to mind was that what if the young man had made a racially insensitive gesture, would he be banned from playing for the Greek national team for life? Yes the young man was insensitive and should at the very least be informed of the implications of the action as well as apologize (i believe he has already done so) and at worst given some form of community service or banned for a certain period of time (I dont think it should reach a year though). But of course that’s just my opinion…

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