Bulgaria fans’ racism: Racist abuse of England players leads to stadium ban

England boss Gareth Southgate speaks to officials during the game in Sofia

Bulgaria have been ordered to play two matches behind closed doors – one suspended for two years – for their fans’ racist abuse of England players in a Euro 2020 qualifier.

England’s 6-0 win in Sofia was stopped twice and could have been abandoned, but the visitors chose to play on.

The hosts already had a partial stadium closure for that match on October 15 because of previous racist behaviour.

Bulgaria have also been fined 75,000 euros (£65,000) by Uefa.

The Bulgaria fans’ behaviour included Nazi salutes and monkey chants and the match was stopped twice for racist chanting by home supporters.

Uefa punishment criticised

Bulgaria were already halfway through a partial two-game ban after being found guilty of racist behaviour in matches against the Czech Republic and Kosovo in June.

Of the 46,340 seats at Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, 5,000 were blocked off for the game with England, while 3,000 were due to be blocked off for their final Euro 2020 qualifying game against the Czech Republic on 17 November – but that game will now be played at an empty ground.

They are bottom of Group A with three points from seven games and cannot qualify directly for next summer’s finals.

However, as things stand, they would be in line for a play-off spot due to their results in the League of Nations last year.

Anti-racism charity Kick It Out said it was “disheartened, but not surprised” by Uefa’s punishment adding that European football’s governing body “missed an opportunity to send an uncompromising message on racism and discrimination.”

“The current sanctions, however ‘tough’ Uefa think they may be, are clearly not working and leave victims with little faith in their ability to prevent abusive behaviour,” said Kick it Out in a statement.

“We feel Uefa’s entire disciplinary process in response to racial discrimination should be overhauled, and urge them to explain the decision-making process behind their sanctions for incidents of discrimination.”

Liverpool’s England under-21 striker Rhian Brewster tweeted that the punishment was “embarrassing.”

Brewster said he was racially abused in a Uefa Youth League game against Spartak Moscow in December 2017, but Uefa took no action, saying it could not find any conclusive evidence.

“Two Games behind closed doors for Nazi salutes and racism,” he added. “The world needs to wake up.”

Anti-discrimination body Fare said it was “disappointed” Bulgaria were not expelled from Euro 2020 qualifying “given their previous record and obvious inability to deal with the problems they face”.

“We think the evidence and circumstances of this match would have justified European football being given a stronger signal on the need to tackle racism,” Fare added.

“Obtaining justice for racist acts is not easy in any setting, it is clear that football is no exception.

“We will be in touch with Uefa to explore options and maintain that Bulgaria and others in the same situation fundamentally reappraise how they deal with racism.”

The Football Association did not criticise Uefa, saying: “While we acknowledge Uefa’s ruling today, a huge challenge still exists around racism and discrimination in society.

“Football has its part to play, and must do so, but it is for all to recognise the seriousness of the problem.

“While those responsible for such deplorable behaviour at home or abroad need to be held to account, we should not lose sight of the importance of education programmes in finding a long-term solution.

“That has to be the way forward to help address the root cause of such disgusting behaviour.”

England have been fined 5,000 euros (£4,314) after their fans booed the Bulgarian national anthem before the game, while the hosts were fined 10,000 euros (£8,629) for the same offence by their supporters.

Aleksander Ceferin, the president of European football’s governing body, said following the match against England that the “football family and governments” needed to “wage war on the racists”.

After the game, both the president of the Bulgaria Football Union (BFU), Borislav Mihaylov, and Bulgaria manager Krasimir Balakov resigned.

Authorities in Bulgaria have identified 16 suspects and made 12 arrests since the match.

Four people were fined and given two-year bans, with others remaining under investigation.

“We sincerely believe that in the future, Bulgarian football fans will prove with their behaviour that they have unjustifiably become the subject of accusations of lack of tolerance and respect for their opponents,” the Bulgaria Football Union said in a statement.

“This will be of benefit to all – for both football players and fans, as well as for Bulgaria’s international sporting prestige.”

In 2015, Croatia were docked a point from their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign after fans marked a swastika on their pitch for a game against Italy, which was behind closed doors.

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