The Bulgarian Football Union have claimed that their “persistent efforts to combat racism” helped them escape with a one-match stadium ban for their fans’ racist abuse of England’s black players.
Bulgaria have been ordered to play their next competitive home game behind closed doors with a further match suspended for two years following the racist behaviour of their fans during the Euro 2020 qualifier against England on October 14.
A section of supporters at the match in Sofia’s Levski Stadium directed racial abuse at England’s black players, while some were also seen making Nazi salutes.
The Bulgarian Football Union was also fined 75,000 euros (£64,641) for “the racist behaviour of its supporters and the throwing of objects”.
Anti-racism campaign group Kick It Out said UEFA’s regulations on racism needed to be “overhauled” and said European football’s governing body had “missed an opportunity” to send the right message.
But the Bulgarian federation have responded to their punishment and explained why they believe it is the correct decision that they have escaped a more serious punishment.
“The Bulgarian Football Union would like to emphasise that the incidents of October 14 at Vasil Levski St., which provoked a huge international response and created great public tension, failed to prevent the professional and effective response of all departments and units [of the BFU],” the statement read.
“Thanks to the diligent and competent work of the BFU administration and the Union’s legal partners, as well as the persistent efforts to combat racism, xenophobia and tribal intolerance, the Bulgarian national team avoided more severe sanctions.”
The match against England was stopped in the 28th minute and the first step of UEFA’s anti-racism protocol – a public address announcement calling on the abuse to stop – was enacted.
The abuse continued and Croatian referee Ivan Bebek halted the match again just before half-time, though it was later confirmed that this did not constitute the second step of the protocol under which the referee leads the teams from the field temporarily.
Monkey chanting and booing directed at England’s players and staff could still be heard during the second half, but the match was completed with England winning 6-0.
The president of the BFU, Borislav Mihaylov, resigned the following day, with UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin saying the football family had to “wage war” on racism.
The BFU added on Tuesday night: “We sincerely believe that in the future the Bulgarian football fans will prove with their behaviour that they have unjustifiably become the subject of accusations of lack of tolerance and respect for their opponents,” the statement continued.
“This will be of benefit to all – for football players as well as fans, as well as for Bulgaria’s international sporting prestige.”
The Bulgarian federation was also fined 10,000 euros (£8,619) for causing disturbance during a national anthem, while the English Football Association was fined 5,000 euros (£4,309) for the same offence.
The charge against the FA related to an insufficient number of travelling stewards will be heard on November 21 after the association requested more time to present its defence.