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Nationalist politics fuels soccer crowd race abuse return, warns UEFA boss

By JULIAN SHEA | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-10-16 12:24
England players and manager Gareth Southgate speak to referee Ivan Bebek as the Euro 2020 Qualifier Group A match against Bulgaria is stopped during the first half at Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia, Bulgaria,  Oct 14, 2019.[Photo/Agencies]

The president of European soccer's governing body UEFA says action is needed from the "football family and governments" to "wage war on the racists" after England players almost abandoned their game against Bulgaria because of abuse from sections of the crowd - and warned that the rise of nationalistic politics is one of the causes.

Play was stopped twice during England's 6-0 win in Bulgaria because of the behavior of fans.

Bulgaria's national team coach Krasimir Balakov claimed not to have heard anything, but the most senior British police officer at the game, Chief Superintendent Steve Graham, said the scenes were the worst he had ever experienced, and the morning after the game the head of the Bulgarian Football Union quit after the prime minister demanded his resignation.

"There were times, not long ago, when the football family thought that the scourge of racism was a distant memory," said UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin.

"The last couple of years have taught us that such thinking was, at best, complacent.

"The rise of nationalism across the continent has fueled some unacceptable behavior and some have taken it upon themselves to think that a football crowd is the right place to give voice to their appalling views."

A statement issued by the English Football Association described the abuse as "abhorrent" and "unacceptable at any level of the game".

"As we are sadly aware, this is not the first time our players have been subjected to this level of abuse," it continued, adding "we will be asking UEFA to investigate as a matter of urgency".

When the game was halted for a second time, groups of Bulgarian supporters with scarves covering their faces began to leave.

Former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright, who was at the game as a television summarizer, said this had been a "seminal" moment.

"What is good about it is we have a generation of players-not just black players-who won't tolerate it anymore," he said

"I feel really good watching this. We have had so many games where we have had this racial abuse and people say 'just beat them on the pitch'. It doesn't do anything. Today, they won't because (the abusers) had to leave."

UEFA is also poised to investigate the Turkish national team after players celebrated goals with military salutes.

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