Are Bulgaria unable to tackle their racism problem?

CONTROVERSY: Bulgaria fans in the stands

BULGARIA HAVE been ordered to play their next two home matches behind closed doors as punishment for their fans’ racist abuse of England players. 

The Three Lions thrashed Bulgaria 6-0 at the Vasil Levski National Stadium on October 15. The stadium was partially empty as punishment for previous incidents of racist chanting among Bulgarian fans, and they were at it again during the England game. 

The play was stopped twice and it could have been abandoned, but Gareth Southgate’s men elected to play on and ended up surging to a comprehensive victory. 

The result left England comfortably top of their qualifying group and the best sports betting sites now make them second-favourites to win Euro 2020. Yet the quality of their football was sadly overshadowed by the racist abuse of the home fans. The fallout was swift, as Bulgaria Football Union president Borislav Mihaylov and manager Krasimir Balakov both resigned after facing pressure from the Bulgarian government. 

The authorities have since arrested 12 fans, fined four people and handed out a number of two-year bans, while other investigations remain ongoing. 

Now, UEFA has ordered them to play their next two home games in an empty stadium. That includes their final qualifying group game against the Czech Republic. Bulgaria are bottom of Group A, with just three points from seven games, and they cannot qualify directly for Euro 2020. 

However, they are currently in line for a playoff spot due to previous Nations League results, giving them a potential avenue into the tournament. Some anti-racism campaigners are disappointed that UEFA did not decide to expel Bulgaria from the tournament entirely, given its previous record with racism. Charity Kick It Out said European football’s governing body had “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 the charity 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.”

Another charity, Fare, accused Bulgaria of being unable to tackle its racism problem. But the Bulgarian Football Union said: “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. This will be of benefit to all – for both football players and fans, as well as for Bulgaria’s international sporting prestige.”

Racism has been a major problem in football for decades, but players are now fighting back more than ever. England star Raheem Sterling has emerged as a shining example to fellow black players, and teams are now increasingly going public with threats to walk off the pitch if their players receive racist abuse. 

The European Championship is normally held in one country, but Euro 2020 will be hosted at stadiums in 12 nations across Europe in order to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the tournament. 

It culminates with the semi-finals and final at Wembley in London. Racism is a greater problem in some host nations than others, and UEFA will be under pressure to clamp down on any racist abuse that takes place at next summer’s finals.

The organisation has partnered with Fare in order to promote diversity and inclusion in football and to back the drive to rid the game of discrimination, and anti-racist messages were broadcast at Champions League and Europa League games over the past two weeks.

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