• England’s 6-0 win in Sofia was stopped twice and could have been abandoned, but the visitors chose to play on.
• 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.’
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 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’s punishment has been criticised by anti-racism charity Kick it Out, anti-discrimination body Fare and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA).
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.
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.”
The PFA said Uefa’s guidelines need to be 'overhauled' with 'far stronger deterrents imposed” such as expelling teams from competitions, adding: “Only then can the issue of racism be seriously confronted.”
It also called for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) representation on Uefa’s control, ethics and disciplinary committee - the group responsible for deciding the punishment.
“This lack of diversity, we believe, will influence the way in which racist incidents are dealt with by the panel,” the PFA said. “Diversity on the pitch must be reflected at every level of the game, not just on the field of play.”
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.”
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.”
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