Pressure is increasing on football’s European governing body UEFA to review its sanctions after visiting England players were subjected to vociferous racist abuse during Monday night’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria despite the contest taking place in a partially closed stadium in Sofia.
In July, the Bulgarian Football Union was ordered by UEFA to close a section of 5,000 seats for the game at the Vasil Levski national stadium, with a section of 3,000 seats then due to be closed for the next home qualifier against Czech Republic on November 17. UEFA ordered the national governing body to display banners with the wording ‘#EqualGame’ on the empty seats.
UEFA handed down the punishments following incidents of racist abuse during matches against Kosovo and Czech Republic earlier this year.
However, anti-racism campaign group Kick It Out branded the sanctions as “not fit for purpose” after large sections of the crowd at the stadium could be heard abusing players during the England match, leading to the game being halted twice.
“It’s now time for UEFA to step up and show some leadership,” the group said. “If Uefa care at all about tackling discrimination – and if the Equal Game campaign means anything – then points deductions and tournament expulsion must follow.”
The Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network, which had observers inside the stadium on Monday, will assist UEFA by collecting evidence ahead of any sanctions.
FARE network’s executive director, Piara Powar, told the Press Association: “The fact that it was widespread racism cannot be in doubt and the issue now will be the evidence that UEFA needs to have a legally safe prosecution of the Bulgarians.
“That will partly be from us, and the footage from the broadcasters, so there’s no shortage of evidence.
“Given the debate that took place before this match, the focus on the Bulgarian fans and the widespread warnings that were issued, the concerns expressed by players, officials, it was quite shocking to see what took place. It seemed almost like the Bulgarian fans were determined to live up to the worst representation of themselves.”