SOFIA (Reuters) - England players who react to racist abuse by walking off the pitch should face punishment if they breach a UEFA protocol, Bulgarian soccer chief Borislav Mihaylov said ahead of next week’s Euro 2020 qualifier.
England striker Tammy Abraham indicated this week that the players could act as a group and leave the pitch if subjected to abuse in qualifiers against the Czech Republic on Friday and Bulgaria in Sofia on Monday.
Bulgarian supporters made monkey chants at visiting black players when England last travelled to Sofia for a European qualifier in 2011, prompting UEFA to fine the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) 40,000 euros.
In an official letter to the European soccer body, the BFU president on Thursday expressed his “extreme disappointment” at the England players’ comments ahead of the match and spoke of the “unjust branding” of local fans.
He said ignoring UEFA’s three-step protocol for racism, which can lead to the referee abandoning a match if warnings to the crowd do not stop the abuse, “should be punishable according to the UEFA disciplinary regulations”.
Mihaylov also wrote to UEFA last month to express indignation and disappointment over comments by England manager Gareth Southgate about the prospect of racism at the Group A qualifier in Sofia.
In the latest letter, he said he felt the “fixation” on potential incidents during the game in Sofia could increase tension and did not do justice to the Bulgarian fans, the general public and the BFU’s own efforts.
UEFA ordered the partial closure of Bulgaria’s Vasil Levski stadium after racist behaviour by their supporters in Euro 2020 qualifiers with the Czechs and Kosovo in June.
England top the group with 12 points and will qualify for next year’s finals if they beat the second-placed Czechs.
“We are extremely shocked at all efforts to involve and even mark out the Bulgarian spectators as potential troublemakers,” said Mihaylov.
He said the BFU’s efforts to combat racism were working.
“There has not been a single recent incident during a national team game involving hatred or discrimination due to skin colour, race, religion or political views,” added the president.
He called on UEFA to “take measures against the build-up of unnecessary tension”.
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Additional reporting by Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Ken Ferris