Bulgaria have been ordered by Uefa to play their next competitive home game behind closed doors, with a further match suspended for two years after the racist chanting which marred the Euro 2020 qualifier with England this month.
The sanction was swiftly criticised by the anti-discrimination network Fare, which said it was disappointed Bulgaria had not been expelled from qualifying, while Kick It Out said Uefa had “missed an opportunity” to send the right message.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, was among those to demand sanctions from European football’s governing body after the incidents in Sofia during England’s 6-0 victory, which led to the game being halted twice in the first half after fans made monkey noises towards Tyrone Mings, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford.
The sports minister, Nigel Adams, wrote to the Uefa president, Aleksander Ceferin, asking him to take “urgent action”, with Bulgaria already having been punished with a partial stadium ban for “racist incidents” during a previous qualifier.
Uefa confirmed on Tuesday that its control, ethics and disciplinary body had opted to impose a two-match stadium ban – one match longer than is usual for a second offence – as well as ordering the Bulgaria Football Union to pay a €75,000 fine. However, the second will be suspended during a probationary period of two years.
The sanction means Bulgaria’s qualifier against the Czech Republic on 17 November will be played behind closed doors, while they have also been ordered to display a banner with the words “No to Racism” with the Uefa logo on it.
Fare, which has had a partnership with Uefa since 2001 and is described as the governing body’s “social responsibility partner”, said in a statement: “We welcome the speed of this decision but we are disappointed that 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.
“We think that the evidence and circumstances of this match would have justified European football being given a stronger signal on the need to tackle racism. Obtaining justice for racist acts is not easy in any setting; it is clear that football is no exception. We will be in touch with Uefa to explore options and maintain that Bulgaria and others in the same situation fundamentally reappraise how they deal with racism.”
Kick it Out added: “We are disheartened, but not surprised, to learn of Uefa’s response to the racist abuse directed at England players. 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.”
The BFU was fined a further €10,000 for disturbances during a national anthem, with England ordered to pay €5,000 for the same offence.
A spokesman for the FA said: “We sincerely hope the disgraceful scenes in Sofia are never repeated. 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.
“While those responsible for such deplorable behaviour at home or abroad need to be held to account, we should not lose sight of the importance of education programmes in finding a long-term solution. That has to be the way forward to help address the root cause of such disgusting behaviour. We are ready to build on our work with Uefa, Kick It Out and the FARE network in any positive way we can.”
The BFU said that its work to combat racism in the past had helped them avoid more severe sanctions.
“Thanks to the diligent and competent work of the (BFU) administration and the union’s legal partners, as well as the persistent efforts to combat racism, xenophobia and tribal intolerance, the Bulgarian national team avoided more severe sanctions,” read a statement. “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. This will be of benefit to all – for both football players and fans, as well as for Bulgaria’s international sporting prestige.”
Meanwhile, Hartlepool have been charged by the FA following an alleged incident of racism during their National League match against Dover on 21 September. The match was held up for 10 minutes after abuse was directed at Dover’s Inih Effiong by a small number of fans.