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Bulgarian FA chief resigns as Uefa president calls on 'football family' to wage war on racists

Bulgaria’s prime minister had urged Borislav Mihaylov to step down in the wake of the racist abuse directed towards English players by Bulgarian supporters.

Stewards amongst Bulgaria fans in the stands during Monday's qualifier.
Stewards amongst Bulgaria fans in the stands during Monday's qualifier.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

BULGARIA’S FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION chief has resigned after a match against England was twice halted because of racist abuse.

Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov had urged Borislav Mihaylov, the president of the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU), to immediately step down following Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia.

The match, which England won 6-0, was halted twice after England players were targeted by racist chanting.

The BFU said in a statement on its website that Mihaylov presented his resignation Tuesday and would hand it to the members of the BFU executive committee during its meeting Friday.

prime-minister-of-bulgaria-file-photo Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borissov. Source: Rick Findler

“His decision resulted from the tension created over the past days, which is detrimental to Bulgarian football and the Bulgarian Football Union,” the statement said.

Prime minister Borisov said on Facebook that it was “inadmissible that Bulgaria… is associated with racism and xenophobia” and he “categorically condemned the behaviour of some of those present at the stadium”.

Earlier Tuesday, BFU media chief Hristo Zapryanov had said his union was not to blame for the trouble, dismissing Monday’s incidents as “inadmissible” but saying the BFU had no power “to investigate and to track hooligans”.

England manager Gareth Southgate said his side had made a statement by deciding to complete the match instead of leaving the pitch in the face of the abuse, calling it “an unacceptable situation”.

Mihaylov has headed the football federation since 2005. During his time in charge Bulgaria have failed to qualify for any major tournament.

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Before the game, he had urged Uefa to stop “tensions” after England forward Tammy Abraham said his team was prepared to walk off the pitch if they faced abuse during Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Mihaylov had said the BFU had made “extreme efforts and measures… to ensure a fair and safe environment”.

bulgaria-v-england-uefa-euro-2020-qualifying-group-a-vasil-levski-national-stadium England manager Gareth Southgate (second left) and match referee Ivan Bebek (third right) during the Uefa Euro 2020 qualifying match at the Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia, Bulgaria. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Prior to Mihaylov’s resignation, Uefa president Aleksander Čeferin released a stongly worded statement underlining the commitment of European football’s governing body to tackling racism.

Čeferin defended Uefa’s record in the anti-racism stakes but stressed that the body “cannot afford to be content” with their efforts to date, also calling upon what he described as “the football family” to “wage war” on racists.

“There were times, not long ago, when the football family thought that the scourge of racism was a distant memory,” he said. “The last couple of years have taught us that such thinking was, at best, complacent.

The rise of nationalism across the continent has fuelled some unacceptable behaviour and some have taken it upon themselves to think that a football crowd is the right place to give voice to their appalling views.

“As a governing body, I know we are not going to win any popularity contests. But some of the views expressed about Uefa’s approach to fighting racism have been a long way off the mark. Uefa, in close cooperation with the FARE network (Football Against Racism Europe), instituted the three-stage protocol for identifying and tackling racist behaviour during games.

“Uefa’s sanctions are among the toughest in sport for clubs and associations whose supporters are racist at our matches. The minimum sanction is a partial closure of the stadium – a move which costs the hosts at least hundreds of thousands in lost revenue and attaches a stigma to their supporters.

“Uefa is the only football body to ban a player for 10 matches for racist behaviour – the most severe punishment level in the game. Believe me, Uefa is committed to doing everything it can to eliminate this disease from football. We cannot afford to be content with this; we must always strive to strengthen our resolve.

More broadly, the football family – everyone from administrators to players, coaches and fans – needs to work with governments and NGOs to wage war on the racists and to marginalise their abhorrent views to the fringes of society. Football associations themselves cannot solve this problem. Governments too need to do more in this area. Only by working together in the name of decency and honour will we make progress.

- © AFP, 2019

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