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Bulgarian football union chief resigns; Ceferin defends UEFA

Borislav Mihailov, president of the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU), resigned on Tuesday after repeated incidents of racism in the Euro 2020 qualifier against England.

Sofia/London, 15 October 2019 (dpa/MIA) – Borislav Mihailov, president of the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU), resigned on Tuesday after repeated incidents of racism in the Euro 2020 qualifier against England.

A BFU spokesperson initially said Mihailov would resist pressure from the country’s government to step down but he apparently changed his mind within hours.

Shortly after that, anti-corruption police raided the offices of the BFU in Sofia. The building has been surrounded and nobody was being allowed to leave, the state broadcaster bTV reported.

Police said they wanted to check the BFU’s operations.

Monday’s match was played in a Sofia stadium which already had some blocks of seats closed because European governing body UEFA had sanctioned Bulgaria for the fans’ racism in previous games against Kosovo and the Czech Republic in June.

Bulgaria can expect further sanctions following this latest incident, including a fine and a possible stadium closure for one or more future matches.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin meanwhile insisted his organization was “committed to doing everything it can to eliminate this disease from football.”

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said in a Facebook post that “following the shameful loss” he ordered Sport Minister Krasen Kalev to withdraw all support, including financial, from the BFU until Mihailov stepped down.

He also condemned the fans who hurled racial abuse at England players and were seen making Nazi salutes.

“It is unacceptable to link Bulgaria, … a tolerant country of different ethnicities and religions living together in peace, with racism and xenophobia,” he said.

A BFU spokesperson told state radio Mihailov wanted to keep his post and the government had no right to remove him.

But this stance was brief and a later BFU statement said he would present his letter of resignation to an executive committee meeting on Friday.

“It comes after the pressure that has been generated over the past few days; a situation that is not positive for Bulgarian football or the football union itself,” the BFU said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on UEFA to take “strong, swift action,” in response.

“The vile racism we saw and heard last night has no place in football or anywhere else,” Johnson said on Twitter.

“Fully support [manager] Gareth Southgate [and] the team for rising above it.”

Ceferin did not reference Monday’s match in making his own statement but wrote on the UEFA webpage: “There were times, not long ago, when the football family thought that the scourge of racism was a distant memory.

“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.”

Ceferin claimed UEFA’s sanctions “are among the toughest in sport” and said “some of the views expressed about UEFA’s approach to fighting racism have been a long way off the mark.”

UEFA have instituted a three-step protocol for racist behaviour at games. The match on Monday had only two; the third would have seen the contest abandoned.

Southgate said a difficult decision had been made at half-time to continue in light of the abuse directed towards Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and debutant Tyrone Mings.

“We know it’s an unacceptable situation but I think we’ve managed to make two statements: by winning the game but also by raising awareness of everybody to the situation as the game was stopped twice,” he said.

“I know for some people, that won’t be enough, but as a group we were on board with that process.”

Bulgaria cannot secure a Euro 2020 berth through normal qualifying but are guaranteed a play-off spot in March next year having won their Nations League group.

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