Bulgaria vs England racism shame: UEFA vows to ‘wage war’ on offenders & defends sanctions

Getty Images

UEFA has vowed to "wage war" on racism after further ugly scenes marred a Euro 2020 qualifier between Bulgaria and England.

The match staged in Sofia, with sanctions already imposed on the hosts as certain sections of the ground were closed off, had to be halted on two occasions in the first half .

A number of supporters considered to be responsible for the racist taunts aimed in the direction of England players and staff appeared to be removed from the stadium.

Two steps of UEFA’s action protocol were completed before some form of order was restored, with the game able to be completed without the need for abandonment action to be taken.

Gareth Southgate and his side have earned plenty of praise for the manner in which they went about their business, while opposite number Krasimir Balakov has been condemned after claiming to have been unaware of any incidents in the stands .

UEFA have once again been charged with the task of taking the lead in the fight against racism, with calls for more severe punishments to be administered continuing to grow in intensity.

European football’s governing body maintain that they have always taken the hardest possible line against offenders and will continue to do so after seeing an unwelcome debate sparked once more.

A statement released by UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin read: "There were times, not long ago, when the football family thought that the scourge of racism was a distant memory. 

"The last couple of years have taught us that such thinking was, at best, complacent. The rise of nationalism across the continent has fuelled some unacceptable behaviour and some have taken it upon themselves to think that a football crowd is the right place to give voice to their appalling views.

"As a governing body, I know we are not going to win any popularity contests. But some of the views expressed about UEFA’s approach to fighting racism have been a long way off the mark. 

"UEFA, in close cooperation with the FARE network (Football Against Racism Europe), instituted the three-stage protocol for identifying and tackling racist behaviour during games.

"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.

Article continues below

"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."

Bulgaria’s Football Association president Borislav Mihaylov has since resigned from his position after  earlier being advised to do so by the country's prime minister, Boyko Borissov.