By Andrew Warshaw
October 16 – UEFA have opened disciplinary proceedings against Bulgaria following the racist abuse towards England’s black players that made Europe-wide headlines while UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin insisted football alone cannot eradicate the problem.
The game was marred by a torrent of racist abuse, twice halted during the first half and came as close as any international fixture to being abandoned altogether had UEFA’s three-step anti-racism protocol reached its final hurdle.
The Bulgarian Football Union, whose president has been forced to resign (some might say as a sacrificial lamb and/or scapegoat) over what happened on Monday, has been charged over the racist behaviour, including Nazi salutes and monkey chants, of the fans.
England have not got off totally either, with the disruption of both teams’ national anthems by opposing fans also to be investigated.
While it is expected that Bulgaria will be hit hard after this latest outbreak of discrimination at international level following previous punishments imposed by UEFA for the same thing, Ceferin urged the “football family and governments” to “wage war on the racists”.
In a hard-hitting statement, he said UEFA was committed to doing everything it can “to eliminate this disease from football”.
“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.”
But, he added, UEFA needed help from governmental authorities and independent pressure groups to stamp out the practise.
“Only by working together in the name of decency and honour will we make progress.
“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.”
FIFA, which doesn’t normally automatically comment on UEFA business, got in on the act by warning it could “extend worldwide” any sanctions by UEFA, or by the other continental confederations for that matter, for racist behaviour.
Describing racism in football as an “obnoxious disease that seems to be getting even worse in some parts of the world,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino called for “new, stronger and more effective ways to eradicate” it including worldwide lifetime bans for those found guilty.
As the pressure grows on UEFA to impose far more stringent punishments on the culprits, Ceferin insisted that the organisation’s sanctions were “among the toughest in sport”
“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.”
But anti-discriminatory body Fare has called for Bulgaria to be kicked out of Euro 2020 qualifying. “We think that after what happened, UEFA has it in their power to kick Bulgaria out of Euro 2020 qualification for sure,” said Fare Eastern Europe development officer Pavel Klymenko.
“There have been too many incidents, too much negligence from the Bulgarian FA. UEFA should make an example of the Bulgarian FA and expel them from the competition.”
Anti-racism organisation Kick It Out also said UEFA’s existing sanctions were insufficient.“There can be no more pitiful fines or short stadium bans,” it said. “If UEFA care at all about tackling discrimination … then points deductions and tournament expulsion must follow.”
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