Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov yesterday called for the president of Bulgaria’s soccer union to resign following racist abuse and monkey chants from the country’s fans toward black England players during their UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier.
The match, won 6-0 by England, was temporarily halted by the referee in the first half to tackle the abuse from the crowd in Sofia’s Vasil Levski National Stadium, under a three-step protocol by European soccer governing body UEFA.
A group of black-clad Bulgarian fans, some of whom were making right-wing salutes, were moved from an area behind the dugout with home team captain Ivelin Popov trying to appeal to the supporters in a heated discussion at halftime.
“I urge Borislav Mihaylov to immediately resign as president of the Bulgarian Football Union [BFU],” Borissov posted on Facebook yesterday, after footage of Monday night’s match was seen around the world on television and social media.
“It is unacceptable for Bulgaria, which is one of the most tolerant countries in the world, and people of different ethnicities and religions live in peace, to be associated with racism and xenophobia,” Borissov added.
The government would suspend relations with the BFU, including financial ties, Bulgarian Minister of Youth and Sports Krasen Kralev said earlier yesterday.
The BFU was not immediately available to comment, but after Monday’s match, it had tried play down the incidents.
“It’s quite disappointing to focus on racism,” BFU vice president Yordan Lechkov said. “It’s not serious to concentrate on that if there’s a qualifier like this and we’re playing against a team like England.”
UEFA had ordered the BFU to partially close the national stadium for England’s visit after supporters were found guilty of racist behavior in matches earlier this year.
Racist chanting was heard from the stands and reported by England players to manager Gareth Southgate, with the referee informed and a public announcement made on two occasions.
Most of the Bulgaria players and their coach said after the match that they had not heard any abuse of the visiting team.
Bulgaria coach Krasimir Balakov said that there had not been such racial incidents before and blamed England fans for being disrespectful to Bulgaria supporters.
“During the second half they used words against our fans that I find unacceptable,” he said.
The BFU and a number of Bulgarian clubs have been fined by for racist abuse several times over the past few years.
Troy Townsend of soccer equality campaign group Kick It Out urged UEFA to ban Bulgaria.
“[UEFA] have to take the strongest possible action and that, for me, is to kick Bulgaria out of the European qualifiers. It’s the only way people will take note of what they are doing to our black players,” Townsend said.
TURKEY VS FRANCE
Turkey players yesterday defied UEFA with another military salute after a 1-1 draw in their Euro 2020 qualifier against France.
UEFA was already looking into salutes by players on the Turkey side from during and after Friday’s 1-0 win over Albania. The European soccer federation prohibits political statements in stadiums.
However, Turkey players lined up again to show a military salute after Kaan Ayhan’s late equalizer in Paris. Side captain Burak Yilmaz was joined by goalkeeper Mert Gunok and several defenders in giving the salute toward the crowd, in apparent support of forces involved in Turkey’s invasion of Kurdish-held regions in northern Syria.
Defender Merih Demiral urged Ayhan to salute, too, leading to what looked like a heated discussion between the two, but the goal-scorer desisted and made his way back to the pitch.
Ayhan and Turkey striker Kenan Karaman both play for German side Fortuna Dusseldorf, who issued a statement after Friday’s game to distance itself from “politically motivated acts.”
“Both players stand for values that the club lives by,” Dusseldorf sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel said.
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