UEFA has “missed an opportunity” to get tough on racism after it ordered Bulgaria to play their next home qualifier behind closed doors over the racist behaviour of their fans during the Euro 2020 match against England.
Anti-discrimination campaigners Kick It Out said they were “disheartened but not surprised” by the sanction, with a second match behind closed doors suspended for two years. The federation (BFU) was also fined 75,000 euros (£64,641).
A section of the crowd during the match in Sofia on October 14 directed monkey chants at England’s black players and staff, while some were seen making Nazi salutes. It is understood the Football Association will not appeal against the sanction.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin called on the game’s authorities and society as a whole to “wage war” on racism, but Kick It Out said the decision would give anyone affected by abusive behaviour “little faith” that European football’s governing body was doing anywhere near enough to prevent it.
“We are disheartened, but not surprised, to learn of Uefa’s response to the racist abuse directed at England players,” the statement read.
“In our view, they have 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.
“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.”
England’s players and staff were praised for their dignified response. An announcement was made over the stadium’s public address system calling on the abuse to stop during the first half and referee Ivan Bebek temporarily halted proceedings just before half-time. Despite the abuse continuing in the second half, England played on and won the match 6-0.
The FA said in its statement that better education was the long-term solution to tackling the problem, adding: “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.”
Piara Powar, the executive director of the Fare Network whose spotters provide evidence to UEFA on incidents of discriminatory behaviour, felt Bulgaria should have been disqualified.
“We welcome the speed of this decision but we are disappointed Bulgaria will not be expelled from the Euro 2020 qualifying competition given their previous record and obvious inability to deal with the problems they face,” he said.
“We think the evidence and circumstances of this match would have justified European football being given a stronger signal on the need to tackle racism.”
The BFU, for its part, said the sanctions would have been more severe but for the “diligent and competent work” of the federation.
It added: “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.”
The Bulgarian federation was also fined 10,000 euros (£8,619) for causing disturbance during a national anthem, while the English Football Association was fined 5,000 euros (£4,309) for the same offence.
The charge against the FA related to an insufficient number of travelling stewards will be heard on November 21 after the association requested more time to present its defence.
The punishment handed to Bulgaria came on the same day that Hartlepool were charged by the FA over alleged racist abuse by some of their supporters towards Dover player Inih Effiong during a National League game on September 21, and as a Burnley fan faced trial in Brighton accused of racially abusing Albion defender Gaetan Bong. Nathan Higgins, 19, denies the charge.
Stay updated with the latest news, gossip and football stories by following us @Football_P