The European Championships are fast approaching, and no team is being talked about more than the Three Lions.
One of the most appalling nights in football.
That was how the Euro 2020 qualifier between Bulgaria and England a fortnight ago was described after a group of Bulgarian fans made monkey noises at England’s Tyrone Mings, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford. Television cameras also caught some fans making Nazi salutes.
On Tuesday, UEFA fined the Bulgaria Football Union €75,000 ($121,396) and ordered them to play their next competitive match, against the Czech Republic on November 17, behind closed doors. The match against England was already being played in a partially closed stadium following racist incidents during Bulgarian qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Kosovo in June, and still there was racist abuse.
The correct decision would have been to disqualify Bulgaria from the tournament. A fine will only hit the BFU in the pockets short term and the fans will just return to spread their language of hatred when the stadium is fully open.
And where is the money collected from the fine going to go? Will it be given to the charities and organisations who work tirelessly to try and kick racism out of the game or will it go straight into the UEFA coffers? UEFA need to do some explaining about their policies just as much as the BFU need to.
TV presenter Jake Humphrey provided a bit of context on Twitter to prove how lenient a punishment this is.
Fine for Bendtner showing a sponsor on his underwear – £80,000
Fine for Besiktas allowing a cat on the pitch £30,000
Fine for Bulgaria’s disgraceful racist chanting – £65,000
Bulgaria will also play two games ‘behind closed doors’. This is hardly ‘waging war on racism’ is it!
— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) October 29, 2019
Kick It Out CEO Roisin Wood told the BBC on the morning after the match: “There have to be serious steps now, and that should include looking at expulsion or not letting people enter tournaments, because there has to be a clear message.”
She added: “You would never expect to get this in your workplace so why should professional players get it in theirs?”
Show Racism the Red Card, the UK’s largest anti-racism educational charity, released a statement after the UEFA sanctions were announced saying: “Fees and stadium closures cannot tackle racism alone. Education is key to changing attitudes and bringing about long lasting change. We want to see UEFA and domestic leagues investing more in anti-racism education programmes that can make a real difference to challenging racism in football and in wider society.”
And that is the main thing to take away from this. Education is the way forward. Norms need to change so that fans know that it is not right to racially abuse players.
This is especially true when the Bulgarian goalkeeper, Plamen Iliev, thinks that home supporters “behaved well” on that night in Sofia and that the England players “overreacted a bit”. Denial allows the problem to continue.
However, as the English Football Association and anti-racism charities condemn the situation in Bulgaria, all is not well at home.
Just five days after the Bulgaria-England match, the FA Cup fourth qualifying round match between Haringey Borough and Yeovil was abandoned when Haringey manager Tom Loizou took his players off the pitch after reports of racial abuse against their goalkeeper Valery Douglas Pajetat and defender Coby Rowe. Two Yeovil supporters were arrested but were later released on bail. So everyone got off scot-free.
We thought that racism had gone out of the game for good but two matches in one week this October have proven that it still manages to show its ugly self every once in a while.
Can it be eradicated completely? Only time will tell. Just putting banners up and flashing messages up on TV screens when goals have been scored makes no difference apart from getting the message out there. There is a lot of work to be done.