Bulgaria football chief resigns after England players suffer racist abuse

Darren Lewis tells says that the lack of black leaders in the Bulgaria FA and UEFA is a large reason for the racism in the Bulgaria v England Euro qualifier.

Posted: Oct 15, 2019 10:00 AM
Updated: Oct 15, 2019 10:00 AM

The president of Bulgaria's football association Borislav Mihaylov has handed in his resignation after England players were subjected to racist abuse during Monday's Euro 2020 qualifier.

The game was twice temporarily halted in the first half after England debutant Tyrone Mings alerted officials to the abuse being directed at both himself and his teammates from various parts of the Levski Stadium in Sofia.

Mihaylov had faced pressure from Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov who demanded he quit.

"It is unacceptable for Bulgaria, which is one of the most tolerant countries in the world, and people of different ethnicity and religions live in peace, to be associated with racism and xenophobia," said Borissov

As well as the monkey chanting, some Bulgarian fans made Nazi salutes during the game.

UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin blamed the "rise of nationalism" across the continent for the "unacceptable behavior" of some soccer fans who continue to racially abuse players.

"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," he said.

"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."

UEFA told CNN on Tuesday that its control, ethics and disciplinary body will wait to read the referee's match report and the report of the UEFA delegate before launching an investigation into the racist abuse, adding that it will also likely consider observations from FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe) anti-racism spotters who were at the game.

READ: How the scourge of racism continues to tarnish football

England response

Seemingly unfazed by the ugly scenes, England won 6-0 but the result was almost the last thing on the England players' minds after the match.

"Feeling sorry for Bulgaria to be represented by such idiots in their stadium. Anyway. 6-0 and we go back home, at least we did our job. Safe travel to our fans, u guys did well," Raheem Sterling wrote on Twitter.

Marcus Rashford, who opened the scoring with a wonderful goal, tweeted: "Not an easy situation to play in and not one which should be happening in 2019. Proud we rose above it to take three points but this needs stamping out."

The players' reaction was praised by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who tweeted: "The vile racism we saw and heard last night has no place in football or anywhere else. Fully support Gareth Southgate & the team for rising above it. Need to see strong swift action from UEFA."

Football journalist Darren Lewis told CNN Sport that Bulgaria must face "a stringent punishment" before explaining why he thought issues such as this still continue to surface.

"There is no black representation at the top of their [Bulgarian] game, just like there isn't at the top of UEFA. That's why so few people have any faith in their ability to actually understand this issue," Lewis told CNN World Sport.

Bulgaria response

Monday's game put UEFA's protocol in dealing with such abuse to the test and it seemed to be working when a stadium announcement told fans that racist behavior was "interfering with the game" and that if it continued, the match would be abandoned.

It did continue, although less in the second half, but England refused the option to walk off the pitch with team coach Gareth Southgate twice seen speaking to his players.

England's manager acknowledged that abandoning the match could have sent out the ultimate message but his players were unanimous in their decision.

Meanwhile Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov spent the half-time break pleading with the home fans to stop the abuse.

"To stand alone and do the right thing takes courage and acts like that shouldn't go unnoticed," tweeted Rashford.

However, as England players and staff criticized the treatment they received, Bulgarian coach Krasimir Balakov said he "personally did not hear the chanting."

Prior to the match, Balakov had argued that England has a worse problem with racism than Bulgaria.

"Not sure about this one chief," Sterling tweeted in response to a story about Balakov's comments.

Bulgaria's goalkeeper on the night Plamen Iliev was quoted by The Guardian as saying supporters had "behaved well" and complained that England had "overreacted."

"I didn't hear any bad language used towards their or our players," he said.

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