UEFA has received untold criticism this week after the events on Tuesday that marred England’s qualifier in Bulgaria.
Everyone saw it coming – Gareth Southgate fielded questions before the match on what his team would do if the event of an incident, and a quarter of the stadium was closed thanks to previous occurrences. Yet when fans were pictured producing clear Nazi salutes and making monkey noises directed towards black England players, the game became secondary to the atmosphere and the on-field happenings became an afterthought.
The event had been well and truly marred.
Since, UEFA has done little except release a hollow statement and charged both teams – yes, both sides, including England – with violations stemming from the match in Sofia. Still, there is hope that future incidents can be both avoided and properly dealt with.
First, it appears the Bulgarian government is stepping in to act in the wake of Tuesday’s disgusting events. Bulgarian police have reportedly arrested 12 people with connections to the racist abuse and are investigating further, utilizing the country’s “protection of public order during sports events” laws that allow police to issue fines and bans. The fines reportedly amounted to $570 per person and each individual received a two-year ban from all sporting events in the country.
In addition, the Italian football federation announced that it would be implementing a specific stadium security review system to spot and punish racism. This comes in the wake of numerous incidents over the past few seasons that have gone unpunished thanks to a disciplinary tribunal determining the chants were not perceptible enough despite being heard both on television and on the pitch.
“It astonishes me that some chanting can be heard clearly and some cannot, so we need to work out why that is, but it is not normal” Italian federation chair Gabriele Gravina said. “I’m not interested in how loud or how much chanting there is but in the principle behind it. I’m not interested if it can be clearly heard or not. If it is just one, two or 10 people doing it, we need to intervene.”
Gravina says they are collaborating with the Ministry of the Interior as well as local police forces to not just use the technology but also follow through with sanctions and legal punishments once violations have been identified.
Still, UEFA continues to fall flat when it comes to punishing clubs and national federations that have repeated and widespread racism violations. It remains to be seen what UEFA will do with the events in Sofia, but recent events yet again show they are hardly interested in coming down with punishments that effectively motivate teams to care about stamping out racism.
For Wolves’ Europa League visit to Slovakian club Slovan Bratislava on Friday, a relatively simple loophole is set to be exploited to fill a stadium otherwise condemned to a closed-door policy for previous racism violations. Children under the age of 14 are permitted to attend closed-door matches for free, along with one required adult per 10 children, and Slovan is utilizing this policy to fill the stadium with an expected 21,000 fans despite the match officially to be played in front of an empty stadium. Thanks to the sanctions in place, Wolves only received 200 allocated tickets for the match, leaving their traveling support woefully undermanned against the massive home presence.
The Slovakian club was sanctioned for racist chanting in a home Europa League match against Greek side PAOK back in August, leading to a pair of closed-door matches. However, the club allowed 2,000 children in for their next home match against Besiktas despite the sanctions and is set to fill New Slovakia National Stadium nearly to its official capacity of 22,500. Other weak UEFA sanctions for racism include a total of $82,000 in fines and Slovan forced to display an “#EqualGame” banner.