England’s victory against Bulgaria on Monday in their Euro 2020 qualifier was marred by Bulgarian fans hurling racist insults at England players, and UEFA has taken action by charging the Bulgarian Football Union over the incident.
During the game, a group of Bulgarian fans in the stands started racist chants, made monkey noises, and gave the Nazi salute to England players Raheem Sterling, Tyrone Mings and Marcus Rashford. The referees began to follow UEFA’s three-step protocol and the game was paused while an announcement was made, demanding an immediate end to the racist actions.
When they didn’t stop, the game was paused again and a second announcement was made, this time threatening the abandonment of the match. There are reports that some of the racist chants continued after the second announcement, but the game ultimately finished with no further unplanned stoppages.
Bulgarian Football Union president Borislav Mihaylov resigned Tuesday following pressure from Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov, who threatened to cut funding if Mihaylov didn’t step down. However, Borissov didn’t cover himself in glory either. According to CNN, he accused England of having “overdramatized” the incident while claiming that “Bulgaria is the most tolerant nation."
UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin released a statement decrying the racism displayed in Bulgaria, but recognized that UEFA can only do so much — governments need to step up.
UEFA's sanctions are among the toughest in sport for clubs and associations whose supporters are racist at our matches. The minimum sanction is a partial closure of the stadium – a move which costs the hosts at least hundreds of thousands in lost revenue and attaches a stigma to their supporters.
UEFA is the only football body to ban a player for ten matches for racist behaviour – the most severe punishment level in the game.Believe me, UEFA is committed to doing everything it can to eliminate this disease from football. We cannot afford to be content with this; we must always strive to strengthen our resolve.
More broadly, the football family – everyone from administrators to players, coaches and fans – needs to work with governments and NGOs to wage war on the racists and to marginalise their abhorrent views to the fringes of society. Football associations themselves cannot solve this problem. Governments too need to do more in this area. Only by working together in the name of decency and honour will we make progress.
Despite the ugliness of this incident, Yahoo Sports’ Leander Schaerlaeckens wrote on Monday that there is a tiny glimmer of hope: UEFA’s protocol to battle fans’ racist behavior has a chance to work if it’s applied properly. Officials went part of the way on Monday, but the game was allowed to continue due to decisions from either the head referee or England manager Gareth Southgate.
According to CNN, FIFA has said that whatever sanctions are placed on Bulgaria by UEFA can expand to a global level, which means their World Cup qualifying chances are in jeopardy. Since Bulgaria lost 6-0 to England and hasn’t won in over a year, that seems like the least of their worries.
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