Feb. 1 - Greek soccer players go on strike and games are suspended as cash-strapped leagues can no longer afford to pay or insure players. Sunita Rappai reports.
Empty seats and a tattered flag in an Athens soccer stadium - a grim metaphor for the crisis hitting Greece's cash-strapped soccer leagues. The fate of the country's second and third-tier teams now hangs in the balance after players went on strike over unpaid wages and lack of health insurance. Football League vice president Stelios Sfakianakis says the league has been hit badly by the current economic crisis. He says this has been the worst crisis for Greek soccer since the professional game was created. (SOUNDBITE) (Greek) VICE PRESIDENT OF FOOTBALL LEAGUE, STELIOS SFAKIANAKIS, SAYING: "Things have gotten worse as we have not received any funding or income since last May. We don't have the television contract that we had with the national broadcaster, and neither have we reached an agreement with OPAP (the Greek Organisation of Football Prognostics), despite it being practically February." Despite the suspension of games, some teams, like Ethnikos Asteras, were still training in Athens. Its coach says the problem of uninsured players must be tackled. (SOUNDBITE) (Greek) COACH FOR ETHNIKOS ASTERAS, PETROS DIMITRIOU, SAYING: "This year, the second and third tier national teams have been left at the mercy of God. The athletes cannot play uninsured. The league is a tough one, we have many injuries every Sunday, and they have given insurance only during some games, not all. That's the worst thing. I would rather the games never start if the players don't get insurance." This midfielder says he hasn't been paid for the last seven months and is now forced to borrow money from friends and family. Twelve third tier teams folded in 2011 due to a lack of funds. Sunita Rappai, Reuters