Fifa urge tougher measures to stamp out ‘disease’ of racism in football
Disciplinary proceedings opened against Bulgaria and England following Sofia match
FIFA president Gianni Infantino: ‘We still face challenges to tackle this problem in our sport, as we do in society.’ Photograph: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Fifa president Gianni Infantino has demanded “new, stronger and more effective ways to eradicate racism in football” in the wake of the abuse suffered by England players during their Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria, calling for worldwide life bans for those found guilty of racist behaviour.
Uefa has opened disciplinary proceedings against Bulgaria and England following Monday’s match in Sofia, which was stopped twice as Bulgarian fans made Nazi salutes and directed monkey noises at black England players.
Charges against the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) include the racist behaviour, throwing of objects and disruption of a national anthem by home supporters, and showing replays on a giant screen.
The English Football Association has been charged with disruption of a national anthem, as well as providing an insufficient number of travelling stewards.
Infantino said in a statement: “I call on all football governing bodies to join us and think together of new, stronger and more effective ways to eradicate racism in football.
“As a starting point, I suggest that all competition organisers enact regulations which envisage life bans from stadiums for those who are found guilty of racist behaviour at a football match. Fifa can then enforce such bans at a worldwide level.”
Following Uefa’s anti-racism protocols, an announcement was made in the 28th minute of the match warning fans that any further incidents of racist abuse could result in it being abandoned, while another pause before half-time only added to the nasty spectacle.
Break in play
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.
Infantino, who during his time at Uefa introduced that protocol, added: “So many times we say there is no place for racism in football, but nonetheless we still face challenges to tackle this problem in our sport, as we do in society.
“We will need the support of public authorities to help us identify and punish the culprits but we probably also need to think more broadly on what we can do to fix this.
“When we proposed the three-step procedure in 2009 when I was at Uefa, and then made the regulations even tougher a few years later, we could not have imagined that so shortly thereafter we would again be having to think of how to combat this obnoxious disease that seems to be getting even worse in some parts of the world.”
The cases against the BFU and FA will be dealt with by Uefa’s control, ethics and disciplinary body, with the date of the meeting yet to be confirmed.
Fifa said it expected to be informed of the disciplinary decisions “as soon as practicable” so it could extend any sanctions worldwide.
An FA spokesperson said: “We acknowledge the charges but will not be commenting further as it is an ongoing process.”
Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin had earlier urged the “football family” to “wage war on the racists”.
Rise in nationalism
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,” Ceferin said 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.
The rise of nationalism across the continent has fuelled some unacceptable behaviour
“Football associations themselves cannot solve this problem. Governments too need to do more in this area.”
Slovenian Ceferin said football had become “complacent” in tackling racism.
He added: “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.”
British minister for sports minister Nigel Adams has written to Ceferin on behalf of the British government.
“The terrible events last night demonstrate clearly that much more needs to be done to stamp racism out of the game, once and for all,” he wrote.
“I urge Uefa to take urgent action to ensure that all football authorities and fans are clear that the consequences of failing to tackle this issue will be severe.
“The England team has my full support and I welcome tough action from Uefa in response.”
Adams, who also addressed the issue in parliament, said England “players and management showed tremendous dignity” throughout the match.
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,” his 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.”
Within minutes of Ceferin’s statement on Tuesday, the BFU announced the resignation of its president Borislav Mihaylov, saying the current position was “detrimental to Bulgarian football”.