Johnson and Infantino tell Uefa to punish Bulgaria
Calls for country to be ejected from Euro 2020 England facing charge over ‘anthem disruption’
Uefa faced unprecedented pressure last night to expel Bulgaria from competitive football amid mounting outrage at failures by authorities to prevent racist abuse against England players.
Sanctions were launched against the Bulgarian Football Union after an afternoon in which its president resigned under the orders of his prime minister and the federation’s headquarters were raided by police investigating corruption.
However, Uefa was facing the fiercest criticism of all over its apparent inability to tackle discrimination. Gianni Infantino, the Fifa president, suggested football was failing in its duty of care as he called for “new, stronger and more effective ways to eradicate racism in football”. The most powerful figure in the global game also indicated some punishments facing Bulgaria could be extended worldwide.
Boris Johnson was also among those to demand Uefa acted swiftly, while Fare, an anti-discrimination charity whose spotters claimed to see stewards joining in the racist chanting, said the only option was to expel Bulgaria from Euro 2020.
Gareth Southgate, the England manager, twice asked for play to be halted during the first half of his side’s 6-0 win, first after monkey chants were aimed at defender Tyrone Mings. England have since pledged to ensure staff will check the mental state of those affected.
Immediately after the match, Kick It Out and former England striker Ian Wright led blistering attacks on Uefa over “toothless” attempts to prevent racism. Since then, Harry Kane, the England captain, led calls for tougher punishments, while Downing Street said the Prime Minister was calling on Uefa to conduct a “swift investigation with tough penalties to follow”.
Bulgaria, who were already serving a partial stadium ban for racism by fans in June, are now facing a minimum punishment of points deduction and possible tournament exclusion after being charged with “racist behaviour (chants, Nazi salutes)” and “throwing of objects”.
However, John Barnes and Paul Canoville, two black players who faced some of the worst racist abuse in footballing history, told The Daily Telegraph that the governing bodies were still struggling to understand the “complexity” of racism in wider society. “Bulgaria’s racist fans do not care if the team are kicked out or fined,” Barnes said.
England’s players had been commended for their tough and dignified response to racism on Monday night, however the Football Association was left disappointed by news that it, too, faced charges from Uefa for providing an “insufficient
‘Uefa is committed to doing everything it can to eliminate this disease from football’
number of travelling stewards”. The FA also faces a potential fine for visiting fans’ “disruption of national anthem”.
Aleksander Ceferin, the Uefa president, defended his record on racism and blamed a rise in nationalism across Europe for the “disease”. “Believe me, Uefa is committed to doing everything it can to eliminate this disease from football,” he said. “Football associations themselves cannot solve this problem. Governments, too, need to do more in this area.”
Later, in Sofia, police special forces raided the headquarters of the BFU following the departure of Borislav Mikhailov, the federation’s president, who played in goal for Reading during the mid-1990s and whose goalkeeper son Nikolay spent three years on Liverpool’s books. Officers were said to have been searching for documents related to Bulgarian referees.
Following the monkey noises and chants, Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov ordered Mikhailov’s immediate resignation.
After full-time in England’s 6-0 victory at the Vasil Levski National Stadium, members of the Bulgarian team continued to express doubts about the extent of the abuse. Plamen Iliev, the goalkeeper, even claimed the home fans “behaved well”, suggesting Southgate’s players “overreacted a bit”.
However, Fare, which had been commissioned by Uefa to keep an eye on abuse, had a different take. “We believe and are calling for the Bulgarian FA to be kicked out of the Euro 2020 competition,” a spokesman told The Telegraph. “Uefa should make an example of them, the legal armoury is there.” The organisation has since told Uefa that stewards at the game may have been complicit in the racist abuse.
Southgate and Kane came close to leading the team off entirely after Mings and Raheem Sterling raised the alarm early in the first half. Kane has since called for “stronger punishments”.
In Westminster, sports minister Nigel Adams has written to Uefa to outline his concerns. Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, said she was “disgusted” while Dr Rosena Allin-khan, the shadow sports minister, raised the issue in Parliament. She told the Commons: “Uefa must come down hard – fines are not enough, stadium bans are a must and forfeiting games or expulsion cannot be ruled out.”
Infantino, who during his time at Uefa introduced the three-step protocol enacted in Sofia, added: “I call on all football bodies to join us and think together of new, stronger and more effective ways to eradicate racism in football. As a start, I suggest that all competition organisers enact regulations which envisage life bans from stadiums.”
Staying calm: England coach Gareth Southgate talks to referee Ivan Bebek