Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland campaigner urges action against Bulgaria over racist football chants

England skipper Harry Kane and referee Ivan Bebek
England skipper Harry Kane and referee Ivan Bebek
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

A Northern Ireland-born anti-racism campaigner has called for strong action to be taken against the Bulgarian Football Union over abuse directed at England footballers.

Roisin Wood, from the Kick It Out charity, condemned the chants which marred Monday's Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia.

As anger grew yesterday, Borislav Mikhailov, the president of Bulgaria's Football Union (BFU), resigned.

The BFU said it was "a consequence of the recent tensions", however, the governing body did not specifically mention racism in their statement.

Earlier, Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov said the government would freeze all funding and relations with the BFU until Mikhailov departed his role.

Ms Wood, the Co Down-born chief executive of Kick It Out, said European football's governing body Uefa needed to take strong action.

She said: "We all knew this was going to be an issue game, we always knew there was going to be problems with Bulgaria because of their history of that - they have a record of this.

"They were playing in a partially-closed stadium because of that. If we knew it, Uefa knew it."

She added: "The strongest possible sanctions must be now put in place, because nothing else will send a clear message out."

Bulgarian minister for sport Krasen Kralev told Bulgarian news site sportal.bg: "A little while ago, the prime minister called me urgently. You know that in the last four years, the government has done a lot for the development of Bulgarian football.

"But after the recent events, having in mind the whole state of football, after yesterday's incidents, the prime minister has ordered me from today to suspend any relations with the football union, including financial ones, until the resignation of Borislav Mikhailov."

Play was halted twice during the 6-0 victory, with a section of Bulgarian supporters shouting racist abuse and making Nazi salutes, in what FA chairman Greg Clarke described as "one of the most appalling nights" he had witnessed in football.

Downing Street described the scenes in Sofia as "vile" and urged Uefa to "face up to facts" surrounding criticism of the governing body's three-step protocol designed to deal with racist abuse during matches.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's official spokesman said: "The racism we saw and heard was vile and has no place in football or anywhere else. The England players and management showed tremendous dignity, and the prime minister commends the players who were targeted for this despicable abuse for their response."

England captain Harry Kane also questioned the leniency of Uefa's three-step protocol and called for "stronger punishments" on racism.

"Whether the Uefa protocol is strong enough, I am not sure," he said. "Whether any racial abuse should be allowed at any time... well it shouldn't be.

"The protocol at the moment allows there to be an announcement and two or three steps before the players are taken off.

"It is unacceptable to be racist once so I feel there can be stronger punishments and protocols."

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