Fifa president Gianni Infantino demands ‘stronger, more effective ways’ to eradicate racism in football

Swiss-Italian urged for action after abuse was aimed at England players in their clash with Bulgaria on Monday

Alex Pattle
Wednesday 16 October 2019 08:11
Bulgarian journalist claims England match 'was so friendly' as he interrupts Gareth Southgate press conference

Fifa president Gianni Infantino has called for “new, stronger and more effective ways to eradicate racism in football” following the abuse aimed at England players during their Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria on Monday.

Uefa has opened disciplinary proceedings against Bulgaria and England in the wake of the match in Sofia, which was halted twice due to Bulgarian fans making Nazi salutes and directing monkey chants at black England players.

Charges against the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) include the racist behaviour, throwing of objects and disruption of a national anthem by home supporters, as well as showing replays on a giant screen. Meanwhile, the English Football Association (FA) has been charged with disruption of a national anthem and providing an insufficient number of travelling stewards.

Infantino’s response was to demand worldwide lifetime bans for those found guilty of racist behaviour.

“I call on all football governing bodies to join us and think together of new, stronger and more effective ways to eradicate racism in football,” Infantino said.

“As a starting point, I suggest that all competition organisers enact regulations which envisage life bans from stadiums for those who are found guilty of racist behaviour at a football match. Fifa can then enforce such bans at a worldwide level.”

In line with Uefa’s anti-racism protocols, an announcement was made in the 28th minute of Monday’s fixture, warning fans that any further racist abuse could result in the game being abandoned, while there was another pause shortly before half-time.

A three-step protocol from Uefa would have allowed officials to take the teams off the pitch for a break in play as a second measure, with the final step being to call off the game.

Infantino, who introduced the protocol while at Uefa., also said: “So many times we say there is no place for racism in football, but nonetheless we still face challenges to tackle this problem in our sport, as we do in society.

“We will need the support of public authorities to help us identify and punish the culprits, but we probably also need to think more broadly on what we can do to fix this.

“When we proposed the three-step procedure in 2009 when I was at Uefa, and then made the regulations even tougher a few years later, we could not have imagined that so shortly thereafter we would again be having to think of how to combat this obnoxious disease that seems to be getting even worse in some parts of the world.”

The cases against the FA and BFU are to be dealt with by Uefa’s control, ethics and disciplinary body, though the date of the meeting has not yet been confirmed. Fifa said it would extend any sanctions to a worldwide level.

An FA spokesperson told the PA news agency: “We acknowledge the charges, but will not be commenting further as it is an ongoing process.”

England's Tyrone Mings suffered racist abuse in Sofia (Reuters)

England manager Gareth Southgate said he believed his players and staff made a “bigger statement than any team ever has done within international football” with their actions in Sofia.

The England players and staff decided to finish the match during a half-time talk, but 10 minutes before the break Southgate spoke to assistant coach Steve Holland about the likelihood of the match being abandoned given the racist abuse in the Vasil Levski National Stadium.

When asked which sort of punishment should be dealt, Southgate said: “I really think other people have got to deal with that.

“With respect, the amount I’ve had to deal with is remarkable and other people are in positions to be able to affect that.

“I can’t give you what would be the right answer for that, so I think clearly it has got to be dealt with differently.

“The sad reality is that we weren’t able to stop incidents happening, and so now something clearly within the investigation has got to take that next step with regard to that, because it’s remarkable to have such a spotlight on a game and for that all to happen.

“But sadly, from a societal perspective, that seems to be what we’re dealing with.”

Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin urged the “football family” to “wage war on the racists”.

Gareth Southgate said his England players handled the situation against Bulgaria well 

Ceferin blamed a “rise in nationalism” across Europe for fuelling racism at matches and said football had become “complacent” in tackling the problem.

Sports minister Nigel Adams has written to Ceferin on behalf of the government, urging Uefa to take “urgent action to ensure that all football authorities and fans are clear that the consequences of failing to tackle this issue will be severe”.

The Slovenian, though, believes Uefa has some of the toughest sanctions in sport in dealing with racist supporters and feels criticism of the governing body’s handling of the issue is unfair.

“As a governing body, I know we are not going to win any popularity contests,” he said. “But some of the views expressed about Uefa’s approach to fighting racism have been a long way off the mark.

“Uefa’s sanctions are among the toughest in sport for clubs and associations whose supporters are racist at our matches.”

Ceferin pointed out that Uefa was the only football body to ban a player for 10 matches for racist behaviour, the most severe punishment in the game.

Within minutes of Ceferin’s statement on Tuesday, the BFU announced the resignation of its president Borislav Mihaylov, saying the current position was “detrimental to Bulgarian football”. Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov had earlier called for Mihaylov to step down.


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