Bulgarian Soccer Chief Resigns After Racist Fans Target Opponents

Bulgaria’s soccer chief was forced to step down after Bulgarian fans targeted Black players on England’s national soccer team with monkey chants and made Nazi salutes on October 14.

Racist chanting at the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria led to two temporary interruptions of the Euro 2020 qualifying match. Referee Ivan Bebek issued a message to fans after England defender Tyrone Mings complained that he was the focus of racist chants during the 22nd minute of the match.

Bulgarian fans reportedly raised their hands up to form Nazi salutes, directed monkey chants at English players, and held up shirts with the logo of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the league’s governing body, along with the line “No Respect,” a reference to the organization’s “Respect” campaign to reduce racism in the sport, ESPN reported.

Despite the racist chanting, England went on to defeat Bulgaria 6-0.

After the match, England manager Gareth Southgate told the BBC, “Nobody should have to experience what our players did. We followed the protocol. We gave two messages — one that our football did the talking and two, we stopped the game twice.”

Southgate said he gave credit to the referee for communicating with England “all the time.” He said that after the second break, the team could have walked off but his players “were very keen to finish the first half and talk it through. Not one player wanted to stop, they were absolutely firm on that.”

Mings, who made his debut during the match, said the game was a “great occasion” despite the racist chants he endured. “I made my debut, slightly overshadowed by a few disappointing chants. It was quite clear to hear on the pitch, but I think we showed a great response and showed a great togetherness and hopefully let football do the talking,” he said.

Bulgaria manager Krasimir Balakov, however, maintained that he did not hear any abuse during the match and claimed that racism was not a problem in Bulgaria, ESPN reported.

“I do not think there is a single person in Bulgaria who would say that racism is something pleasant,” the former midfielder said. “But at the same time, it is very strange how this topic is interpreted in football. I have heard absolutely nothing [during the game].”

ESPN noted that the match was playing in front of a smaller crowd due to UEFA’s order for a partial closure in response to Bulgarian fans’ racist behavior during matches against the Czech Republic and Kosovo. In 2011, UEFA fined Bulgaria for racist chants by fans in another match against England, according to The New York Times.

Fans’ actions were quickly condemned by officials and fans around the world. UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin said the rise of nationalism across Europe had fueled this “unacceptable behavior,” adding that “some have taken it upon themselves to think that a football crowd is the right place to give voice to their appalling views.”

“UEFA is committed to doing everything it can to eliminate this disease from football,” Čeferin said. “We cannot afford to be content with this; we must always strive to strengthen our resolve.”

A day later, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov forced Bulgarian soccer chief Borislav Mihaylov to resign.

Bulgarian soccer could face additional punishment. UEFA is expected to force Bulgaria to play its next home Euro 2020 qualifying game in an empty stadium, according to the Associated Press (AP). The European soccer governing body will wait for reports from the match delegate and the referee before handing down the punishment.

UEFA must decide if the incident on October 14 counts as a third offense during the Euro 2020 qualifying stage.

In June, Bulgaria was punished with partial closure for the England match following racist behavior by fans during a match against Kosovo. A 3,000-seat section of the Bulgarian stadium is also scheduled to be closed for the Czech Republic’s visit in November because of fans’ racist behavior in Prague during a June match.

According to UEFA’s disciplinary regulations, a second offense is punished with a match played behind closed doors and a fine of 50,000 euros ($55,100). Subsequent offenses will be punished “with more than one match behind closed doors, a stadium closure, the forfeiting of a match, the deduction of points, and/or disqualification from the competition.”

Bulgaria is currently in last place in Group A of the qualifying matches and will not move forward to Euro 2020, according to the AP.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.