One of the greatest soccer players in Greek history has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for social media posts in which he criticized a new gender identity law.

Vasilis Tsiartas, a retired midfielder, was sentenced by a court in Athens to 10 months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of 5,000 euros for comments he made in 2017 on Facebook about the new gender identity law.

Tsiartas wrote that he hoped the “first sex changes are carried out on the children of those who ratified this abomination,” according to The Times, a Greek media outlet. “Legitimize pedophiles, too, to complete the crimes.” A few hours later, Tsiartas wrote, “God created Adam and Eve.”

Tsiartas is planning to appeal. He played for professional teams within Greece and for the Greek national team.

His sentence came under a law that makes it illegal to incite violence or hatred on the basis of gender identity. It was the first such conviction under the law.

The Transgender Support Association described the conviction as “particularly important for the transgender community.”

Tsiartas, 49, was a member of one of the most celebrated soccer teams in Greece’s history: the national team that won the 2004 European Football Championship (“the Euro”). During his career, he never received a red card.

He was nicknamed “el Mago” (the magician). 

“In addition to the many goals he scored with free kicks, long and short shots, and penalties, he also sometimes scored with direct corner kicks,” The Times wrote. “Thus, Tsiartas was the main set piece taker for the Greek national and AEK Athens teams. He was an important member of both teams, claiming two assists in Portugal towards Greece’s ultimate victory at the UEFA Euro 2004.”

Having led Greece to a memorable soccer title, Tsiartas is now leading a fight for free speech.

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Alexander Hassenstein/Staff

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.