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UEFA boss Aleksander Ceferin: 'We must wage war on racists'

UEFA boss Aleksander Ceferin: 'We must wage war on racists'
© Reuters
England players were subjected to racial abuse in Sofia.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has urged the “football family” to “wage war on the racists” following the abuse suffered by England’s players in Bulgaria.

Ceferin blamed a rise in nationalism across Europe for fuelling racism at matches and said the governing body was committed to eradicating the “disease” from football.

“Believe me, UEFA is committed to doing everything it can to eliminate this disease from football,” said Ceferin in a statement.

“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 (non-governmental organisations) 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.”

Bulgaria v England – UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying – Group A – Vasil Levski National Stadium
England players were subjected to racist chanting in Sofia (Nick Potts/PA)

Slovenian Ceferin said football had become complacent in tackling racism.

“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.”

Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia was stopped twice as Bulgarian fans made Nazi salutes and directed monkey noises at black England players.

Ceferin believes UEFA has some of the toughest sanctions in sport in dealing with racist supporters and feels criticism of the governing body’s handling of the issue is unfair.

“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,” the statement continued.

“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.”

Bulgaria v England – UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying – Group A – Vasil Levski National Stadium
Bulgaria head coach Krasimir Balakov claimed not to hear any racism on Monday night (Nick Potts/PA)

Within minutes of Ceferin’s statement, the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) announced the resignation of its president Borislav Mihaylov.

Explaining the decision, the BFU said the current position was detrimental to Bulgarian football but suggested Mihaylov could assist the governing body in a different capacity.

“Today, the president of the Bulgarian Football Union, Borislav Mihaylov resigned,” read the BFU’s statement.

“His position is a consequence of the recent tensions, an environment that is detrimental to Bulgarian football and the Bulgarian Football Union.

“After many years spent in the post and with his many contacts at a high international level, Mr Mihaylov expresses his firm readiness to continue helping in the development of Bulgarian football in every possible way.”

Kane was spoken to regularly as England's captain
Kane was spoken to regularly as England’s captain (Nick Potts/PA)

England captain Harry Kane on Monday night called for “stronger punishments” for racism.

Following UEFA’s anti-racism protocols, an announcement was made in the 28th minute warning fans that any further incidents could result in the match being abandoned, while another pause before half-time only added to the nasty spectacle.

England decided at half-time to play the remainder of the game as braces from Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling and goals for Marcus Rashford and Kane ensured a thumping win for the visitors.

A three-step protocol from the governing body would have allowed the officials to take the teams off for a break in play as a second measure – before ultimately taking the final step of abandoning the game.

Kane, speaking after the match, questioned whether being given three chances is the right way to punish offenders – echoing the view of Football Association chairman Greg Clarke.

“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 the pitch.

“It is unacceptable to be racist once so I feel there can be stronger punishments and protocols but from our point of view as a team, we stuck together, showed unity and did what we had to and that is the most important thing.”

After the first-half incidents, the players spoke in the changing room at half-time, with Kane praising the fortitude of his colleagues for wanting to continue the match despite the issues.

“I’m definitely proud of my team-mates and my friends and everyone involved with our nation tonight,” he added.

“It wasn’t easy for anyone, we made a decision as a team to carry on playing, you saw us come together before half-time and we said we would play until half-time, get together and decide what we wanted to do.”

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