Bulgaria soccer chief quits over Nazi salutes, racist abuse at game vs. England
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Bulgaria soccer chief quits over Nazi salutes, racist abuse at game vs. England

Borislav Mihaylov submits resignation after facing call to step down from Bulgaria’s PM; UEFA head blames nationalism for fueling racism at matches

Bulgarian fans at the the Euro 2020 soccer qualification match between Bulgaria and England at the Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria, on October 14, 2019. (Nikolay Doychinov/AFP)
Bulgarian fans at the the Euro 2020 soccer qualification match between Bulgaria and England at the Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria, on October 14, 2019. (Nikolay Doychinov/AFP)

Bulgaria’s soccer union president resigned on Tuesday, a day after racist abuse marred a match against England in Sofia.

“Today the president of the Bulgarian Football Union Borislav Mihaylov presented his resignation, which will be handed in to the members of the executive committee on its meeting on Friday,” the union said in a statement on its website.

The decision “resulted from the tension created over the past days, which is detrimental to Bulgarian football and the Bulgarian football union,” the statement said.

The Euro 2020 qualifier, which England won 6-0, was twice halted as Bulgarian fans made Nazi salutes and directed monkey noises at England players who are black.

Earlier in the day, Bulgaria’s prime minister urged Mihaylov to resign.

Borislav Mihaylov. (AP Photo/Yuliana Nikolova)

“I urge Borislav Mihaylov to hand in his resignation immediately!” Prime Minister Boyko Borisov wrote on Facebook, adding it was “inadmissible that Bulgaria… is associated with racism and xenophobia.”

Borisov said he “categorically condemned the behavior of some of those present at the stadium,” insisting that EU member Bulgaria was “one of the most tolerant countries in the world.”

Monday’s game was played in a partially closed stadium as punishment for racist behavior by Bulgaria fans during a home qualifier against Kosovo. A 3,000-seat section of Vasil Levski National Stadium was already due to be closed for the Czech Republic’s visit next month because of another racist incident in June when Bulgaria played in Prague.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov at the Evksinograd Palace in Varna, Bulgaria, November 2, 2018. (Amos Ben Gersom, GPO)

But Bulgaria’s soccer federation could be in line for a stronger punishment if UEFA’s disciplinary panel decides Monday’s incident was a third offense in Euro 2020 qualifying.

UEFA has had a three-step process in place for a decade to deal with racism at matches.

The first step was enforced during the first break in Sofia, with the public announcer warning that the match could be called off completely unless the racist abuse stopped. During the second break, dozens of Bulgaria fans involved in the chanting, many of them wearing dark hoodies, left the stadium. England players decided against not continuing playing.

Bulgarian fans gesture as they stand in the stadium to watch the Euro 2020 group A qualifying soccer match between Bulgaria and England, at the Vasil Levski national stadium, in Sofia, Bulgaria, October 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Also Tuesday, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin urged governments to escalate the “war on the racists” to help soccer authorities eliminate it from stadiums.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Ceferin blamed a rise in nationalism across Europe for fueling racism at matches and said UEFA was committed to imposing strong punishments.

“Believe me, UEFA is committed to doing everything it can to eliminate this disease from football,” Ceferin told the AP. “We cannot afford to be content with this. We must always strive to strengthen our resolve.

England’s Raheem Sterling, right, scores his side’s fifth goal during the Euro 2020 group A qualifying soccer match between Bulgaria and England, at the Vasil Levski national stadium, in Sofia, Bulgaria, October 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street office called on UEFA to impose tough penalties on Bulgaria. Ceferin sees eradicating racism as part of a wider effort.

“Football associations themselves cannot solve this problem,” Ceferin said. “Governments too need to do more in this area. Only by working together in the name of decency and honor will we make progress.”

As UEFA awaited reports from the match delegate and referee, its racism monitoring partner, the Fare network, called on Bulgaria to be blocked from qualifying for Euro 2020 as punishment for repeated racism offenses.

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