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Bulgaria v England

‘Racism requires zero tolerance not free hits’ – Ex-England star Ince condemns UEFA protocol

17:19 GMT+3 15/10/2019
Raheem Sterling, Bulgaria vs England 2019
The former Three Lions midfielder has called on European football’s governing body to do more, while condemning the comments of Bulgaria’s coach

UEFA needs to be taking a “zero tolerance” stand against racism, says former England star Paul Ince, with the three-step protocol on show in Bulgaria on Monday merely offering out “free hits”.

Action against those responsible for acts of discrimination was stepped up during a Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia.

With parts of the ground already closed as a result of previous misdemeanours, certain sections of the home support were removed from the stadium as proceedings were halted on the field.

After two first-half breaks in play, one more mass show of defiance from those in the stands and the game would have been abandoned.

Ince believes that should have been the policy from the start, with a three-strike rule doing little to deter those involved.

The ex-Manchester United and Liverpool midfielder told the Daily Mail: “I know UEFA had their protocol of one strike, two strikes, three strikes and you're out but racism should be zero tolerance.

“It felt to me like a boxer and you get two free hits in the face and the third one you are allowed to respond.

“I wasn't sure why we were waiting for the first one and the second one and even the third one in the second half, you could still hear the chants, it wasn't as prevalent in the first half but it was still there.”

UEFA has vowed to “wage war” on racism in football while seeking to defend the sanctions imposed to this point.

More is still expected of them, with Ince left stunned by post-match comments from Bulgaria coach Krasimir Balakov in which he claimed to have been unaware of any racist incidents.

That is considered to highlight the size of the task facing sporting authorities and wider society, with Ince saying: “I was more disappointed with the Bulgaria manager Balakov.

“His quotes after the game were disgraceful and this is someone I played against back in the day, he was a fantastic player but to hear his quotes and what he was saying, it was like he was backing the people who were doing it. 

“Saying he didn't hear it... well, everyone else in the stadium heard it so how could you not hear? He tried to turn the tables on England fans which, for me, someone like that shouldn't be managing. 

“If I had anything to do with it he wouldn't be managing Bulgaria with the comments he came out with.”

With UEFA now conducting another investigation into an incident of discriminatory behaviour, Ince added on what needs to be done: “There has to be a stronger deterrent.

“It can't just be about fining them £50,000 or £100,000, that's not a deterrent for me. 

“The only way UEFA can do that with these teams is getting them punished from European competitions. I don't think fines will be enough.”