Bulgaria have been ordered to play two matches behind closed doors, one suspended for two years, and fined £65,000 over the racist behaviour of fans during the Euro 2020 qualifier against England on October 14, UEFA has announced.
A section of supporters at the match in Sofia’s Levski Stadium directed racial abuse at England’s black players, while some were also seen making Nazi salutes. The punishment does exceed the standard sanction for a second offence at a home match within a period of five years, which would normally be one match behind closed doors, but remains a strikingly paltry punishment given the level of abuse.
The sanction means Bulgaria’s qualifier against the Czech Republic on November 17 will be played behind closed doors. As part of UEFA’s decision, a banner reading ‘NO TO RACISM’ must be on show during one of the matches played behind closed doors.
In response to the punishment, which was met with derision, the Football Association said: ‘We sincerely hope the disgraceful scenes in Sofia are never repeated.
‘Our priority remains our players, support team and fans and we will do all we can to ensure they never have to endure such circumstances again. ‘While we acknowledge UEFA’s ruling today, a huge challenge still exists around racism and discrimination in society.
Football has its part to play, and must do so, but it is for all to recognise the seriousness of the problem
UEFA’S THREE-STEP PROTOCOL
1 – The referee will speak to the stadium announcer and demand the halting of racist behaviour.
2 – If it continues, the referee can take the players off the field into the dressing rooms for a period of time and the stadium announcer will make another address.
3 – If it still continues, the match will be abandoned. ‘While those responsible for such deplorable behaviour at home or abroad need to be held to account, we should not lose sight of the importance of education programmes in finding a long-term solution. ‘That has to be the way forward to help address the root cause of such disgusting behaviour.
We are ready to build on our work with UEFA, Kick It Out and the FARE network in any positive way we can.’ Kick It Out added that they are ‘disheartened, but not surprised’ by UEFA’s verdict.
Their statement read: ‘We are disheartened, but not surprised, to learn of UEFA’s response to the racist abuse directed at England players.
‘In our view, they have missed another 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.
‘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.’