Column: Racism Should Not Be Allowed to Mar the Beautiful Game

By Ashutosh Mishra

London: Racist abuse aimed at England players during Monday’s Euro qualifier against Bulgaria has received massive coverage in the British newspapers. The match that the visiting team won 6-0 was marred by uncharitable comments from Bulgarian fans directed against England’s black players. The naked display of racism by the white-skinned Bulgarian chauvinists brought the proceedings to halt twice on the pitch though Gareth Southgate’s men finally managed to finish the game on a victorious note.

Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford, who scored the first goal of the night, wrote on Twitter: “Not an easy situation to play in and not one which should be happening in 2019. Proud we rose above it to take three points but this needs stamping out.” Some of the Bulgarian fans involved in the incident have been arrested and more are likely to be rounded up.

Hooliganism during football matches in England and Europe is nothing new but this kind of racism is rather unheard of. It has shaken the administrators of the game and fallout from Monday’s incident continues. The Union of European Football Associations, the governing body of football in Europe, better known by the acronym UEFA, has confirmed that the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) has been charged following home supporters’ “racist behaviour”, “throwing of objects” and “disruption of the national anthem” during the qualifier.

British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borissov have condemned the scenes inside the Vasil Levski Stadium that prompted the game to be halted twice. Bulgarian Football Association president Borislav Mihaylov has put in his papers following pressure from Borissov.

While MPs have commented on the issue warning UEFA that “the world is watching” FIFA president, Gianni Infantino has called for ‘ life bans from stadiums for those who are found guilty of racist behaviour at a match.’ Clearly the happenings at the stadium in Sofia on Monday night have shaken the world football fraternity with administrators of the game keen to send out a message that racism has no place in the game and it won’t be tolerated at any cost.

England debutant Tyrone Mings and goalscorers Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling were among the players targeted. Home fans were warned in the first half of the game that the Croatian referee could abandon the game if the abuse continued. After a second stoppage shortly before half time, England players opted to play on rather than have the match suspended.

Things could not have got any worse as TV cameras picked up Bulgarian supporters making Nazi salutes at the Vasil Levski stadium which was partially closed due to the racist behaviour of home supporters in Bulgaria’s matches against the Czech Republic and Kosovo in July. From all accounts, this story is not going to end here for not only the administrators of the game but also the top political leadership in both the countries remains committed to stamping out the virus of racism infecting the beautiful game. The sooner they succeed in achieving this objective the better.

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