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Bulgaria handed two-match stadium ban and fined over fan racism towards England players

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Sky Sports News reporter Geraint Hughes explains the sanctions handed down by UEFA

Bulgaria have been hit with a two-match stadium ban and £64,650 fine for the racist behaviour of their fans during the European Qualifier against England.

One of those stadium closures is suspended for two years, and the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) has also been fined £8,600 (€10,000) for causing a disturbance during a national anthem and must display a UEFA 'no to racism' banner at their next home game.

The FA say they "acknowledge" UEFA's ruling but did not pass judgement on its severity, stressing the need to continue on a path of education, but Kick It Out say they are "disheartened" - and FARE insisted Bulgaria should have been kicked out of Euro 2020.

A Bulgaria supporter holds up a sweatshirt with the words No Respect displayed across the chest during the game against England
Image: A Bulgaria supporter holds up a sweatshirt with the words No Respect displayed across the chest during the game against England

Executive director Piara Powar said: "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."

'Missed opportunity; process should be overhauled'

Kick It Out said: "In our view, UEFA 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.

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Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov begs fans to stop chants
Image: Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov begged his own supporters to stop the chant during the game

"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 FA said: "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."

Gareth Southgate embraces Raheem Sterling after he is substituted during the second half of England's Euro 2020 qualifier vs Bulgaria
Image: Bulgaria's most famous player Hristo Stoichkov personally phoned Raheem Sterling to apologise.

Bulgaria faced multiple charges after the scenes during England's 6-0 victory in Sofia on October 14 - described at the time as "abhorrent" by the FA - that almost saw an international team walk off the pitch and not return for the first time.

Sky Sports News reporter Rob Dorsett said he heard "clear monkey chants" on at least six occasions in the first half from individual pockets of supporters and all inside a 10-minute period.

In the aftermath, both the Bulgaria Football Federation chief Borislav Mihaylov and the national team head coach Krasimir Balakov resigned from their posts and the country's most famous player Hristo Stoichkov personally phoned Raheem Sterling to apologise.

Why did UEFA not do more?

Analysis by Bryan Swanson, Chief Reporter:

Once again a five-figure fine will leave many in football feeling that UEFA's punishment is hopelessly inadequate. But officials in Nyon will say the devil is in the detail.

Article 14 of UEFA's disciplinary regulations states that, as a second offence, the BFU should have been punished with one match behind closed doors and a £43,100 (€50,000) fine.

The disciplinary panel clearly felt there should have been a harsher penalty. Therefore, they decided to impose two matches behind closed doors, with one match suspended, and a higher fine.

Looking at the lost revenue from a stadium closure, UEFA will feel the financial impact on the BFU will be greater than the fine. It is understood gate receipts against England earned them around £350,000 (€400,000) and the total yearly budget of the BFU is believed to be around £7.7m. So a loss of gate money, plus the fine in relation to their annual revenue, will be seen as significant.

UEFA's punishment will have an impact on the union's bank account but it still doesn't send out a strong enough message. UEFA have already imposed around 20 full or partial stadium closures since July for racism. But the regulations need to change; they need to be stronger and show more teeth. Only then will those in the game have more faith in European football's controlling body and its punishments.

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