KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Aleksander Ceferin has defended UEFA against accusations from English football that its approach to racist behaviour was more about words than actions.
The issue erupted after Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifying tie in Bulgaria was brought to be brink of being abandoned after monkey chants and Nazi salutes directed by a phalanx of hooligans at England’s black players.
England took a decisive step towards next year’s finals after a 6-0 victory after which Bulgarian FA president Borislav Mihaylov quit at the urging of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.
It was unclear whether the former UEFA executive committee member stepped down because of the racism storm or his team’s dire results; they are bottom of Group A with no wins in seven games and a minus-12 goal difference.
UEFA president Ceferin, in a statement of his own, acknowledged ruefully that UEFA may have taken its eye off the ball in believing “not long ago [that] the scourge of racism was a distant memory.
He added: “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 complained that “some of the views expressed about UEFA’s approach to fighting racism have been a long way off the mark.”
Leading the attack on UEFA was former England and Arsenal striker Ian Wright, a studio match analyst for ITV. He said: “That says everything you need to know about UEFA. We’re looking at a stadium where half of it’s closed with banners – that’s done nothing.
“What we can see is there’s certain people there that have no respect. At the end of the day, it’s showing UEFA up for what they are. They’re doing nowhere near enough.”
Ceferin, in response to this and similar comments, cited the co-operation with the FARE network (Football Against Racism Europe) and the three-stage protocol activated in Sofia. He described UEFA’s sanctions as “among the toughest in sport for clubs and associations whose supporters are racist at our matches.”
UEFA has charged the Bulgarian football union for the racist behaviour of its fans and Nazi salutes while the Football Association has been charged for having an insufficient number of travelling stewards. Both have been charged over disruption of the national anthems by fans.
The most likely punishment for Bulgaria is having to play their next home game behind closed doors. That was Montenegro’s punishment after England’s players endured similar racial abuse during the qualifier in Podgorica in March.
** UEFA is investigating the military-style salutes carried out by players of the Turkish national team in their Euro 2020 qualifiers against Albania and France.