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Soccer-Bulgarian FA accused of leniency over Levski fine

Reuters

By Angel Krasimirov

SOFIA, Nov 6 (Reuters) - The Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) faced widespread accusations on Wednesday of being too far too lenient in handing Levski Sofia only a small fine and a warning after another episode of racist abuse by their supporters.

A human rights organisation and local media were among those to criticise the governing body for the 3,000 levs ($2,100) fine it gave the club after fans displayed huge banners reading "Death for the refugees" and "Blood will be shed for our land" during Sunday's 4-1 league win over Pirin Gotse Delchev.

"I do not think that this fine is a deterrent," Radoslav Stoyanov, an expert with the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, an independent non-governmental organisation for the protection of human rights, told Reuters on Wednesday.

"Such fines are merely symbolic and do not lead to a change in the situation. The BFU is definitely guilty for its passiveness," Stoyanov said.

He added that it was a missed opportunity for the sport's domestic governing body to stamp its authority on the issue and show that the soccer authorities would not tolerate racism.

Presa, one of the most popular newspapers in the Balkan country, said Levski had "escaped with a paltry fine" while other papers said the punishment was "pitiful" and "a disgrace".

"The BFU's disciplinary commission showed absurd criteria in determining the punishment for xenophobia at Bulgarian stadiums," Presa wrote.

The sports editor of Capital newspaper, Georgi Filipov, told Reuters: "Toleration of such events at the stadiums is unacceptable at a time of growing fears and even acts of xenophobia to Syrian refugees and immigrants of Arab origin in Bulgaria.

"The BFU and some of the leading clubs play a dangerous game with the extremist fans."

The number of refugees, mainly from Syria, in the European Union's poorest country has increased drastically, reaching almost 9,000 this year.

Sports website www.topsport.bg asked: "BFU, are you serious?", adding that the BFU disciplinary commission's decision was "scandalous".

HISTORY OF RACISM

Levski, who are 26-times Bulgarian champions and one of the country's two most popular clubs alongside bitter city rivals CSKA, have a history of racism at their matches.

The BFU fined the club 37,500 levs after their supporters displayed a banner showing a swastika and another one marking what would have been Adolf Hitler's birthday during their game at Litex Lovech in April.

The governing body also warned Levski racism would not be tolerated and that they faced a much bigger punishment if such behaviour happened again.

The BFU has also previously warned clubs that match officials would be able to abandon league games in the event of racist behaviour by fans.

Levski were fined 30,000 euros ($40,400) by UEFA in September 2012 after fans brandished a racist banner and insulted the visiting team's players during their Europa League match against Sarajevo.

"I don't go to Levski matches anymore because of such things," said Levski fan Yordan Mihaylov.

"Well, the April punishment was a yellow card shown by the BFU but they committed another foul and this sanction is something like an encouragement rather than a red card. It's a ridiculous decision."

The BFU, who described the incident as "unacceptable" on its website (www.bfunion.bg), was unavailable for comment when contacted by Reuters. ($1 = 1.4517 Bulgarian levs) ($1 = 0.7421 euros) (Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Sonia Oxley)

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