A 20-year-old Greek soccer player, who celebrated a game-winning goal on Saturday by giving a Nazi salute to fans in Athens, has been banned for life representing his country in international tournaments.
Giorgos Katidis, a midfielder for AEK Athens, claimed he was not saluting but pointing at a friend in the stands, later maintaining that he was unaware of the meaning behind the gesture.
“The player’s action to salute to spectators in a Nazi manner is a severe provocation, insults all the victims of Nazi barbarity and injures the deeply pacifist and human character of the game,” the Hellenic Football Federation said in a statement after convening a meeting to discuss the player’s actions.
Katidis, who initially claimed that he was not saluting but pointing at a friend in the stands, said later that he had no idea what the gesture meant.
In an issued after the ban, he called his salute “totally unacceptable.”
“I feel terrible for those I upset with the stupidity of my act,” he said.
“I want to clarify that I am not a fascist or neo-Nazi or racist,” Katidis added. “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 added: “I sincerely apologize to my teammates and everyone involved with the club that I have insulted in not knowing exactly what I had done in my celebration. Nonetheless, the fact that I did not know what I was doing is no excuse.”
The ban comes in light of the commemoration on Saturday of the 70th anniversary of the roundup and deportation of Greek Jews to Nazi extermination camps during the Holocaust. Greece has seen a recent surge in neo-Nazi activity, most notably in the rise of the anti-Semitic and xenophobic Golden Dawn party.