ATHENS - A Greek soccer match was delayed on Friday when players staged a sit-down protest in a moving tribute to migrants who have lost their lives trying to reach Greece’s Aegean islands.
The show of solidarity took place before the kickoff of the second-tier Football League match between home side AEL Larissa and Acharnaikos in the Thessalian city of Larissa.
As the match kicked off all 22 outfield players — as well as coaches, officials and substitutes — sat down for two minutes in respect of the hundreds of refugees who have lost their lives trying to escape conflict or persecution in countries like Syria and Iraq.
An announcement over the stadium PA system stated: “The administration of AEL, the coaches and the players will observe two minutes of silence just after the start of the match in memory of the hundreds of children who continue to lose their lives every day in the Aegean due to the brutal indifference of the EU and Turkey.
“The players of AEL will protest by sitting down for two minutes in an effort to drive the authorities to mobilize all those who seem to have been desensitized to the heinous crimes that are being perpetrated in the Aegean.”
Greece became the main gateway for more than a million refugees who began arriving in Europe last year, many undertaking hazardous sea crossings in small craft.
Twenty-four people attempting to cross to Europe from Turkey drowned when their boat sank off a Greek island on Thursday.
The gesture came 24 hours after it was announced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the flame for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will pass through a refugee camp in Athens and one refugee will be among the torch bearers.
The torch will be lit in Greece’s ancient Olympia on April 21 before leaving for the South American country 12 days later.
“The Olympic flame will pass through this camp here and will be shown to the refugees,” IOC head Thomas Bach said during a visit to the Eleonas camp for refugees and migrants in Athens, which houses mostly Afghans and Iranians.
“One of the refugees will be invited to carry the torch.”
The IOC has already said top athletes who are refugees with no home country to represent will be allowed to compete at the Rio Games under the Olympic flag.
Editing by Martyn Herman