Golden dawn supporters in Athens
Golden Dawn supporters in Athens

A Greek footballer has been banned for life from playing for his national side after giving what appeared to be a Nazi salute when celebrating scoring a winning goal.

AEK Athens midfielder Giorgos Katidis, 20, was handed the ban by the Greek EPO football association following the gesture during his team's 2-1 league victory over Veria on Saturday 16 March in Athens' Olympic Stadium.

"The player's action to salute to spectators in a Nazi manner is a severe provocation, insults all the victims of Nazi bestiality and injures the deeply pacifist and human character of the game," EPO said in a statement.

Fans and politicians took to Twitter to condemn Katidis, with the 70th anniversary of the beginning of Nazi deportations of Greek Jews to concentration camps falling on Sunday 17 March.

However, the player categorically denied that the gesture signified any far-right allegiance.

"I am not a fascist and would not have done it if I had known what it meant," Katidis said on his Twitter account.

He claimed he was pointing to injured team-mate Michalis Pavlis, who was sitting in the stands.

AEK's German coach, Ewald Lienen, supported the former national under 19 captain.

He said: "He is a young kid who does not have any political ideas. He most likely saw such a salute on the internet or somewhere else and did it without knowing what it means."

The controversy comes at a time of growing support for the far-right Golden Dawn party in debt-crippled Greece, which has a 26 percent unemployment rate.

The party came third in recent national elections, uses a swastika-like symbol and praises German Nazism.

Ilias Kasidiaris, their second in command, was recently acquitted of taking part in the armed robbery of a student in 2007.

Was it a Nazi salute or not? Watch the video and decide.