Published in Samaa on Oct 30th, 2019,
Bulgaria must play their next home game behind closed doors and have been handed a fine of €75,000 after racist chanting by supporters marred their Euro 2020 qualifier against England earlier this month, UEFA said Tuesday.
The disciplinary arm of European football’s governing body also ordered Bulgaria to play a second match behind closed doors, but that punishment is suspended for a “probationary period” of two years.
The punishment means Bulgaria will play their final European Championship qualifier at home to the Czech Republic, on November 17, in an empty stadium.
UEFA also ordered Bulgaria to display a banner with the slogan “No To Racism” at their next two home games.
The Bulgarian FA was additionally fined a further €10,000 for “causing a disturbance during a national anthem” prior to kick-off of the game in Sofia on October 14, which England won 6-0. The English FA was fined €5,000 for the same offence.
The match at the Vasil Levski Stadium was halted twice in the first half due to abuse from sections of the home support, including monkey chants and apparent Nazi salutes.
Despite the abuse, the England team opted to complete the match instead of walking off the pitch.
“We sincerely hope the disgraceful scenes in Sofia are never repeated,” said England’s Football Association. “Our priority remains our players, support team and fans and we will do all we can to ensure they never have to endure such circumstances again. While we acknowledge UEFA’s ruling today, a huge challenge still exists around racism and discrimination in society.”
The game was played in a stadium already partially closed after racist incidents during matches against Kosovo and the Czech Republic in June.
“We sincerely hope that the Bulgarian football fans will prove with their behaviour that they have become targets of unwarranted accusations for lack of tolerance and respect to the opposition team,” the Bulgarian Football Union said in a statement.
Piara Powar, the executive director of the Fare network which works to combat racism and discrimination in football across Europe, said the punishment was not harsh enough and felt Bulgaria should have been disqualified from the competition.
“We welcome the speed of this decision, but we are disappointed that Bulgaria will not be expelled from the Euro 2020 qualifying competition given their previous record, and obvious inability to deal with the problems they face,” he said. “We think that the evidence and circumstances of this match would have justified European football being given a stronger signal on the need to tackle racism. Obtaining justice for racist acts is not easy in any setting, it is clear that football is no exception.”
Anti-racism campaign group Kick It Out called for UEFA regulations on racism to be “overhauled”.
“We are disheartened, but not surprised, to learn of UEFA’s response to the racist abuse directed at England players,” it said in a statement. “In our view, they have 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.”
The incidents caused indignation in the football world and were condemned both by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borisov.
The subsequent fall-out led to Bulgaria coach Krasimir Balakov resigning along with the country’s FA chief, Borislav Mihaylov.
In the wake of the incidents, Bulgarian police said they had identified 16 people suspected of being involved in the “abusive actions”.
Bulgaria are winless in seven Euro 2020 qualifiers — losing four and drawing three — and occupy last place in Group A. They are already out of contention to qualify for next year’s finals.
Before facing the Czechs, Bulgaria are due to host Paraguay in a friendly in Sofia on November 14 in what will be their first match under new coach Georgi Dermendzhiev.