RACIST abuse by Bulgaria fans aimed at black England players has been punished by UEFA with a €75,000 fine and a one game stadium ban with another game suspended for two years. The two sides met in Sofia on the 14th October in a European Championship qualifier which England won 6-0.
We are shocked yet not surprised at the seemingly lenient treatment of the Bulgarian FA by the European governing board. After all, Barcelona were fined €40,000 merely for fans flying a Catalan separatist flag at the Nou Camp. The time for teams found guilty of racism on or off the pitch to be eliminated from competitions has surely come.
We are also surprised and dismayed there has been little to no talk over fans, clubs and associations receiving re-education over racism – surely a better and more thoughtful answer than closing a ground. Imposing a fine lower than what an average Premier League player could reasonably expect to earn in a week has never seemed appropriate.
Calls for players to walk off the pitch when confronted by such behaviour will no doubt grow. But loading responsibility onto players for the failure of authorities to act is weak and unfair.
Newspapers in this country would be well advised to cool their heels over some of their indignant responses to the events in the Stadion Vasil Levski. As should a UK Prime Minister who has previously used language such as “watermelon smiles”, “picaninnies” and “cannibals” to describe black peoples.
Things are far from rosy in the English country garden; the following weekend Haringey Borough players took the brave step of walking off the pitch after their goalkeeper, Valery Pajetat, had been racially abused by Yeovil fans.
A Manchester United supporter was thrown out of Old Trafford for racially abusing Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold. And investigations were instigated into alleged abuse by Bristol City fans of supporters from Luton Town at their match in the Championship.
All the evidence is racism is not going away. Everybody; fans, clubs, countries and authorities need to think much more proactively about how we deal with it.