Members of the extreme-right Golden Dawn party stand around a stage during a gathering 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 70<sup>th 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.