October 29, 2019
NYON, Switzerland (AP) — Bulgaria was punished Tuesday for the Nazi salutes and racist chanting of its soccer fans with an order to play a European Championship qualifying game in an empty stadium, although the team avoided expulsion from the competition.
UEFA’s options to deal with the incidents in Sofia at a Euro 2020 qualifier against England could have removed Bulgaria from the playoffs in March. The UEFA disciplinary panel also put Bulgaria on probation for two years, which should include most of the 2022 World Cup qualifying program. A repeat offense will trigger a stadium closure for a second competitive game.
Bulgaria fans made Nazi salutes and targeted monkey noises at England’s black players during a 6-0 loss two weeks ago. The game was twice stopped by the referee following UEFA guidelines to address discrimination.
The Bulgarian soccer federation was fined 85,000 euros ($94,000), including the mandated 50,000 euros ($55,500) for a second charge of racist behavior. A charge of fans throwing objects was also proven.
Although the England game was the third time Bulgaria fans were guilty of racist behavior this year, the previous incidents at back-to-back Euro 2020 qualifiers in June were judged together in July. UEFA’s disciplinary code states a team will be punished for a second offense with “one match played behind closed doors and a fine of 50,000 euros.”
A third offense “is punished with more than one match behind closed doors, a stadium closure, the forfeiting of a match, the deduction of points and/or disqualification from the competition,” according to UEFA rules.
Bulgaria’s next home game is against the Czech Republic on Nov. 17. The stadium closure will likely cost the national soccer body at least 100,000 euros ($110,000) in lost revenue. Bulgaria drew about 5,000 fans for home games against Kosovo and Montenegro, then more than 17,000 to see England.
Bulgaria is last in Group A with no chance to advance to Euro 2020 by finishing in the top places. However, the sanctions do not affect Bulgaria’s second chance to reach the final tournament from the playoff round in March. Potential playoff opponents include Iceland and Scotland.
A UEFA charge of Bulgaria fans causing disturbance during the national anthem for England accounted for 10,000 euros ($11,100) of the 85,000 euros ($94,000) fine. The English Football Association was fined 5,000 euros ($5,500) for a similar charge.