Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov on Tuesday called on the head of the country’s football federation to resign after a match in Sofia during which Bulgarian fans hurled racist abuse at black England players.
The prime minister now looks set for a battle of wills with the Bulgarian Football Union, which told local media that its chief, Borislav Mihaylov, would not be stepping down, despite Borissov’s threat to withhold funds. Mihaylov was the goalkeeper in Bulgaria’s run to the World Cup semi-finals in 1994.
Borissov stressed both the racist abuse and the dismal performance of the team, which was hammered 6-0.
“After yesterday’s shameful loss of the Bulgarian national team and in view of our poor football results, I ordered [Sport] Minister Krasen Kralev to terminate relations with the Bulgarian Football Union, including financial ones, until Borislav Mihaylov resigns,” Borissov said.
“I also strongly condemn the behavior of some at the stadium. It is unacceptable that Bulgaria, which is one of the most tolerant countries in the world, and where people of different ethnicities and religions live in peace, should be associated with racism and xenophobia,” he added.
Bulgaria’s reputation for tolerance has received a severe knock in recent years because of the sometimes harsh treatment of refugees from the conflicts in the Middle East, who were even tracked down at the borders by nationalist vigilantes.
England player Marcus Rashford has praised Bulgarian captain Ivelin Popov for trying to reason with the crowd at half-time.
A spokesperson for the British government said that the matter needed to be dealt with swiftly.
“This stain on football is not being adequately dealt with. Racism and discrimination should be driven out of football once and for all. We support the FA’s [Football Association] calls for an investigation with tough penalties to follow. We are writing to UEFA [Europe’s football governing body] today to ask for this to be conducted swiftly,” the U.K. spokesperson said.
“There is a need for a real deterrent … we need to send the clearest possible message that racism and discrimination will never be tolerated.”
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