Bulgaria and Hungary were ordered to play their next home World Cup qualifiers behind closed doors after their fans were found guilty of racist and anti-Semitic behavior in recent games, FIFA said on Tuesday.
Bulgaria were sanctioned after a group of supporters racially abused Denmark substitute Patrick Mtiliga every time he touched the ball after entering the field in the second half of their 2014 World Cup qualifier in Sofia, Bulgaria, in October. Hungary’s punishment followed anti-Semitic chanting by fans in a friendly at home to Israel in August.
In both cases, FIFA’s disciplinary committee warned that a repetition could lead to harsher penalties that include a possible points deduction, the forfeiting of the match or even disqualification from the competition.
In an unusually strongly worded statement, FIFA described the incidents in Sofia as “offensive, denigratory and discriminatory,” while the incidents in Budapest were labeled “abhorrent.”
The sanctions came as FIFA’s European counterpart, UEFA, is accused of being too lenient on cases of racism, letting offending clubs off with fines.
FC Porto, SS Lazio and Serbia have all been given fines over recent racism cases by European soccer’s disciplinary committee, although UEFA appealed the Serbia decision, relating to an under-21 match at home to England, asking for stronger sanctions.
Bulgaria, whose next home game in Group B is against Malta in March, were also fined 35,000 Swiss francs (US$37,000) and Hungary, who host Romania also in March in Group D, were fined SF40,000.
Hungary’s match is potentially decisive because the two sides are level in second place with nine points, three behind leaders and clear favorites the Netherlands.
FIFA said that during the Bulgaria match, also marred by a firework-throwing incident in the seventh minute, fans were warned by the stadium announcer about their behavior in the 73rd minute.
“Although the level of abuse subsided, audible racist abuse still continued until the final whistle,” FIFA said. “The disciplinary committee agreed that the offensive, denigratory and discriminatory actions of a small group of Bulgarian supporters, was shameful and a clear breach of the FIFA Disciplinary Code. In addition, the incendiary devices thrown, which can pose considerable threats to personal safety, are also not tolerated.”
FIFA said that in Hungary’s case, it had been informed by the Football Against Racism Europe (FARE) group that some supporters had made anti-Semitic chants and displayed offensive symbols.
“The members of the FIFA disciplinary committee were unanimous in condemning an abhorrent episode of racism, anti-Semitism and of political provocative and aggressive nature perpetrated by supporters of the Hungarian national team,” FIFA said.
It said the Hungarian federation regretted the behavior.
Last week, AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng took his shirt off and walked off the pitch after being racially insulted in a pre-season friendly. His teammates followed him and the match was abandoned.