Greece is only two wins away from qualifying for a historic place at their first Rugby League World Cup, but its progress is under threat by Greek authorities.
If Greece defeats Norway on 18 May in London, then beat either Scotland or Russia in the group they qualify for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup which is being staged in England.
However, Greece’s World Cup campaign has been undermined by the president of the expelled Hellenic Rugby League Federation, Anastasios ‘Tasos’ Pantazidis who has attempted to ban players and prevent the Greek national team from playing.
In 2016, the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) formally expelled the Hellenic Rugby League Federation (HRFL) from its membership after a four month suspension period.
This saw the Greek Rugby League Association (GRLA) became the new governing body for the clubs and national team of which Terry Liberopoulos is a board member and Greece’s team manager.
He told Neos Kosmos that the split has become acrimonious leading to Greece’s previous World Cup qualifier having to be played behind closed doors in fear of being stopped.
“When Greece played against Malta in September last year the match had to be played in secret for fear of police intervention,” he said. “We couldn’t even tell the players where the game was. We had to tell Malta not to say where the game was being played either because we wanted the game to go ahead. That’s how ridiculous this is becoming.”
Former Greek player and member of the backroom staff, Jim Minadakis said that since the authorities attempted to halt a match between a Greek and Serbian team they’ve had to play and train in secret.
“The players are heroes,” he told Neos Kosmos. “Each time the police come they don’t stop the matches but that is only because we talk to them and explain the situation. But after the matches one of the team members has to go to the police station and file a report.”
In attempt to keep control of Greek rugby league Pantazidis placed the HRFL under the banner of the Hellenic Federation of Modern Pentathlon. But in October 2017 a court in Athens dismissed an application by the Hellenic Federation of Modern Pentathlon to support its position as the governing body of rugby league in Greece, with the exclusive right to field a Greek national team. With the decision supporting the Greek Rugby League Association’s position as the nation’s legitimate governing body under the Rugby League International Federation.
However Pantazidis refuses to go away and last month he told Al Jazeera News that he was simply following Greek Law.
“There is only one national team. It’s one that we organise” he said “It’s wonderful teams spontaneously form and play, but such teams cannot be legal entities. They cannot create international tournaments, they cannot play overseas teams in international tournaments and claim to represent Greece.”
Meanwhile Liberopoulos hopes Greece’s attempts to qualify for a World Cup aren’t derailed if they get past Norway.
“Lucky the 2021 World Cup is in England,” he said. “But the problem is if we do play Scotland it will be in Greece and we are worried that the authorities will do all they can to stop the game.
“What happens if the police come and we can’t continue playing? It is a possibility that we will hide that venue. It’s hard not playing in front of any supporters. People involved around the world in rugby league have told me they have never seen anything like this.”