Bulgaria became the latest Balkan country to be sanctioned over the racist behaviour of its football fans.
By Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times in Sofia -- 25/01/13
The incidents occurred at the October 12th match against Denmark. [AFP]
Bulgaria has become the latest country in the region to face punishment due to the extremist behaviour of its football fans during an international match.
Earlier this month, FIFA, the Zurich-based world football organisation, ruled that the country's national team must play their next home match in the preliminary competition for the World Cup in Brazil next year in an empty stadium. In addition, FIFA slapped a fine of more than 28,250 euros on the Bulgarian Football Union.
The sanctions were triggered by incidents during the Balkan country's qualifier against Denmark at the Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia on October 12th, which ended in a 1-1 draw. During the match, a group of local fans subjected Denmark's Patrick Mtiliga "to racist abuse …," FIFA said.
The phenomenon is not uncommon in the region.
On June 19th, European football body UEFA imposed an 80,000-euro fine on the Croatian Football Federation for spectator-related offences during the country's EURO 2012 Group C match against Italy in Poznan, Poland. The sanctions followed the throwing of fireworks onto the pitch, as well as racist chants and symbols directed against Italy striker Mario Balotelli during the game.
Six months later, the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body imposed a fine of 80,000 euros on the Football Association of Serbia and ordered the country's Under-21 national team to play their next competitive home match behind closed doors. The sanctions stemmed from the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Championship play-off between Serbia and England in Krusevac on October 16th.
The match was marred by a number of incidents, including racist abuse against England's Danny Rose and other black players, as well as acts of violence that also led to four Serbian players being suspended for between two and four UEFA national team competition matches.
While racism is not widespread among Bulgarian fans, many local supporters and insiders said the problem does exist.
Dr. Nikolay Yaramov, who served as the national medical consultant for the country's Under-21 and youth football teams, said the issue is a result of declining personal and social values.
"The abusive behaviour of most of those fans is directed mainly against the black players on the opponent teams, and very rarely against members of the football clubs they support," Yaramov told SETimes. "Nonetheless, the leaders of the fan clubs must make extra efforts to deal with this problem."
Many felt that the sanctions were deserved and further efforts are needed to put an end to the cases of throwing of fireworks onto the pitch, booing or monkey-chanting at black players.
"The boys and men usually behind such acts of aggression or racist abuse don't go to the stadium to enjoy the game, but to overcome their ego problems," Ventsislav Kotev, a fan of the Lokomotiv-Sofia football club, told SETimes.
According to CSKA supporter Andrey Ivanov, it was "outrageous and ridiculous" to witness such "uncivilised behavior" and instances of "disrespect for personal dignity" in the 21st century.
"That's why I've stopped going to the stadium and prefer to watch a game on TV instead," he told SETimes.
The next qualifier the Balkan country is scheduled to host is against Malta on March 22nd.
But union head Borislav Mihaylov said that Bulgaria was being punished "disproportionately." The offenders represented "a very small" part of the spectators at the match against Denmark. According to him, the Balkan nation was "sanctioned twice for the same thing."