Piraeus is Evangelos Marinakis’ hometown and home to the Olympiacos FC that he owns and is President of. In 2015 and 2016 Piraeus had a huge influx of refugees into the port; people who fleeing war zones, oppressive regimes and poverty. Evangelos Marinakis decided to provide the refugees with food and clothing; both were necessary because the weather was cold. Clothing items such as trousers, sweaters, jackets, socks, and hats were given away; as well at items like footballs to children. In just a few weeks 110,000 items of clothing had been given to the refugees. 1,500 meals for the refugees were served each day in the restaurant of the Georgios Karaiskakis stadium at the home ground of Olympiacos FC and in a short duration, over 60,000 meals were served.
It was due to events in the Middle East that caused people to leave their homes, and seek refuge in Piraeus with their families. Many of the refugees had endured long and difficult journeys to escape the circumstances in their home countries. Evangelos Marinakis said, “I felt it was our duty to provide for those people who cannot provide for themselves. We are giving whatever we are capable of. Seeing children and families suffering is heartbreaking. It cannot leave you indifferent or passive.” Olympiacos was the first Greek sports-club to help others, even though times were difficult for Greece itself. Olympiacos said that they would continue to help until the refugees had moved on, or were able to help themselves.
Marinakis as President of Olympiacos FC encouraged his whole team to spend time with the refugees, and this included the football captains Roberto and Chori Dominguez, who played football with the children, to distract them from their plight, even if only temporarily. Other players such as Hernani and Seba visited to help distribute meals and clothing.
On Sept 6th, 2017, Evangelos Marinakis spoke at the Athens Conference which was a partnership with Harvard University, ‘Reinforcing, Crossing, and Transcending Borders: Soccer in a Gloabalized World’. In the preamble to his speech, Marinakis pointed out that “According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 20 people are displaced from their homes every minute, a high percentage of whom are unaccompanied children and disabled men and women.”
Evangelos Marinakis’ specific message was that football clubs all over the world need to “accept their social responsibility towards their communities, and the world … [to] change the lives of everyday people.” The conference was about refugees in Europe and how sports like football, had a social responsibility to help with the refugee situation, and they could do so by helping with social inclusion and integration. Marinakis linked to Greece’s past history of the Olympic Games, of bringing together people from different cultures as players and spectators who could all enjoy the sport for its ability, in the words of Marinakis to “inspire; it can unite us, and it can bring out the best of humanity.”
As a result of the conference 12 Athens Principles on the Right to Participate in Sport were drawn up, and signed by Evangelos Marinakis. The principles were about everyone’s right to participate in sport, in a non-discriminatory way, regardless of race, gender, religion, socio-economic background etc. Point 4 of the Athens Principles specifically mentions ‘initiatives that encourage the participation of displaced people … should be supported’. Point 8 is about trying to encourage participation in sport ‘in conflict-ridden or economically depressed areas.’
At the Athens conference, Evangelos Marinakis said, “I believe that any society should be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable and defenseless people,” and so by his actions with refugees, he has not only shown his own compassion but that of Piraeus and Greece as a whole. Marinakas is fully aware that by doing positive things for refugees, like in the Port of Piraeus, it not only helps them, but can also serve to change attitudes towards refugees, and shows that they are human and vulnerable. Evangelos Marinakis commented that “We saw many people move from a position of hostility to a much more welcoming and humane perspective … all refugees were treated with dignity and respect!”
Mr. Beckert at the Athens conference thanked Olympiacos, Mr Marinkais, and all Greeks, ‘for their extraordinary attitude and the way they welcomed all refugees who reached Greek shores in waves.’
The Marinakis Foundation was instrumental in getting food supplies and tents for temporary housing to the refugees from South Sudan. Evangelos Marinakis supplied food and tents to refugee camps in Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia. In the past, in the 1990s it is reported that he has helped refugees in Rwanda too.
Evangelos Marinakis has a long history of helping refugees. This may be partly due to the fact that on his mother’s side of the family, they are descended from the Ypsilantis family who hailed from the Pontian population of Trabzon. Alexander Ypsilantis was a leader of the Filiki Eteria a secret organization that coordinated the beginning of the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. Ypsilantis was for part of his life a refugee.
In 2017, the Pontian Association awarded Evangelos Marinakis a plaque for his support of Pontian Hellenism, and there was a tribute to the Ypsilantis family. This was partly in support for Marinakis donating the money for a monument to the Genocide carried out by the Turkish government between 1914 and 1926 of the Greeks of Pontus – 353,000 Greeks of Pontus died. The monument was called The Pyrrichios Flight. The monument which looks like a wave was placed in Alexandra Square which Marinakis had renovated. The inside of the monument is meant to represent refugee birds fleeing from Pontus. Many of the Pontian refugees landed in Piraeus and the mayor Moralis acknowledged that these refugees, “assimilated in our society, and with their industriousness and ideas became permanent residents of the city, transferring traditions and new cultural elements to the local society.” It’s very much about a celebration of the benefits of what refugees can bring to society and culture.