SOFIA: A Bulgarian teenager was indicted for "grave hooliganism" while four others were fined and received stadium bans over racist abuse at a Euro 2020 qualifier against England, officials said Thursday (Oct 17).
Monkey chants and apparent Nazi salutes during Monday's match in Sofia sparked a storm of protest that overshadowed England's 6-0 win and led to the resignation of Bulgaria's football chief.
Thanks to CCTV footage from the national stadium, Sofia police have so far identified nine suspects in the stands, part of a group of black-clad fans, who directed the abuse at England's players. Six of them were detained on Wednesday.
"One 18-year-old was indicted late Wednesday for grave hooliganism and ordered detained in custody for 72 more hours," Sofia regional prosecution spokeswoman Nevena Zartova told AFP.
According to the indictment, the man used obscene hand gestures and Nazi salutes and turned his back to the field and pulled down his trousers twice.
If found guilty, he could face up to five years in jail.
"Out of the other five, four were handed 1,000-leva (US$568) fines and two-year bans from sports events. Procedures against the fifth, who is underage, are still ongoing," Sofia police directorate spokeswoman Svetoslava Kostadinova said.
The game was halted twice during the first half due to the abuse.
England manager Gareth Southgate told reporters after the game that his side had been ready to walk off the pitch if the abusive behaviour continued but players decided to complete the match.
The incident sparked a storm of angry reactions from fans, media and officials in both countries, leading to the resignation of Bulgaria's football federation chief under pressure from the government and apologies from the national team manager.
UEFA called for a war on racist abuse and announced that it was launching a probe into the behaviour of both the Bulgaria and England fans. UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said European football's governing body was determined to root out the "disease" of racism.
Bulgaria has tightened measures against football hooliganism after several incidents in 2018.
"If there are racists that abuse footballers, we have to stop the game," FIFA president Gianni Infantino told a press conference on a visit to Dhaka on Thursday.
"We cannot let the racists win. The football has to continue and we have to punish the people," he said.
He added it was now easy to identify the culprits in modern stadiums with closed-circuit TV and that a "strong message" must be sent.
"They have to be taken, kicked out of the stadium, they must not be allowed to enter into football stadiums any more, and criminal proceedings should be brought against them.
"It's a crime and it should be a crime in all countries of the world to commit a racist abuse," he said.
Infantino reaffirmed that if a country bans a spectator because of racism, "FIFA will extend it worldwide because racists have no place in football in any country and no place in any football stadium or arena in any part of the world."
Infantino had already condemned the incident in a statement on Tuesday, calling racism an "obnoxious disease that seems to be getting even worse in some parts of the world".
He said that on top of stadium action, better education was needed.
"We have to educate our youth, our children and those who are a bit older as well," he said.
Infantino also said that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar "will be the very best World Cup ever" despite new controversy over the heat and empty stadiums after the world athletics championships in September saw some long distance races badly affected.
The FIFA boss insisted that it would be cooler as the football tournament would be in November and December.
"I am sure in Qatar we will witness from a technical point of view, the very best World Cup ever." He also expressed confidence that the stadiums would be "full".
"Football is the number one sport in the world. We will fill the stadiums in Qatar and anywhere else in the World easily with the World Cup."