A Greek soccer player has been banned from his country’s national team for life after making a Nazi salute during a game.
The Hellenic Football Federation—Greek soccer’s governing body—immediately handed Katidis a lifetime ban from the country’s national teams. It said in a statement:
“The player’s action to salute to spectators in a Nazi manner is a severe provocation, insults all the victims of Nazi bestiality and injures the deeply pacifist and human character of the game.”
Katidis apologized and asked to be dropped from the AEK first team, reports Reuters. But he reportedly claimed that his stiff-armed, open-palmed gesture was not intended to have fascist connotations, and that he was merely pointing to injured teammate Michalis Pavlis, who was sitting in the crowd. He later released a statement, as Reuters reports:
“Unfortunately I cannot take the clock back but I want to clarify that I am not a fascist or neo-Nazi or racist. I have a step brother from Puerto Rico and all my family are from the Black Sea and have experienced racism in the worst ways,” he said.
AEK’s German coach Ewald Lienen defended his player, saying that Katidis holds no political views, reports the BBC. “He most likely saw such a salute on the Internet or somewhere else and did it without knowing what it means,” he said.
Katidis’ actions, which caused outrage on social media sites, came at an especially sensitive time: Sunday marked the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Greek Jews to Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War, as Reuters notes.
It also comes amid a rising tide of ultranationalism in Greece amid the country’s crippling financial crisis. Golden Dawn, a political party with neo-Nazi roots, swept into Parliament for the first time in June last year on an anti-immigrant platform.
The incident is not the first time a soccer player has caused controversy with a fascist gesture. In January 2005 Lazio captain Paolo di Canio faced disciplinary action after saluting fans during two matches in Italy’s Serie A, as the BBC reports. Those incidents resulted in di Canio being fined a total of €20,000 ($26,000) and receiving a one-game ban.