ATHENS, Greece (JTA) — A Greek soccer player was banned for life from playing for the national team after giving the Nazi salute during a game.
In barring Giorgos Katidis, who plays for AEK Athens, the Greek soccer federation said Sunday that the Nazi salute was a “severe provocation” and an insult to “all the victims of Nazi barbarity.”
Katidis, 20, gave the salute after scoring the winning goal in a match on March 15 — the same day Greek Jews marked the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Thessaloniki Jewish community to Auschwitz.
Katidis, who used to play for a Thessaloniki team, claimed he was unaware of the meaning of the salute and apologized for his act.
“I am not a racist,” he said in a message on Twitter.
In recent months, Greece has seen an upsurge in such incidents with the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, whose members and leaders often give the salute and employ other Nazi imagery.
Speaking at a ceremony on Sunday to mark the deportation of the Thessaloniki Jews, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras vowed to take a harsher stance against neo-Nazis and racists.