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Bulgarian Soccer Chief Resigns Following Racist Abuse During Qualifier

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Borislav Mihaylov’s resignation as head of the Bulgarian football association came hours after Prime Minister Boyko Borisov had urged him to step down "immediately."

Bulgaria’s soccer chief has resigned following incidents of racist abuse from Bulgarian fans toward black England players during their October 14 Euro 2020 qualifier.

"Today, the president of the Bulgarian Football Union [BFU], Borislav Mihaylov, presented his resignation, which will be handed in to the members of the executive committee at its meeting" on October 18, the soccer union said in a statement on its website on October 15.

"His position is a consequence of the recent tensions; an environment that is detrimental to Bulgarian football and the Bulgarian Football Union," it said.

Mihaylov's resignation as head of the BFU came hours after Prime Minister Boyko Borisov earlier in the day urged him to step down "immediately."

It was "inadmissible that Bulgaria...is associated with racism and xenophobia," the prime minister wrote on Facebook, adding that the government would cut all ties with the BFU until Mihaylov resigned.

The BFU later reported that special prosecutors had stormed its offices, with 30 specialized prosecutors, anti-organized-crime officers, and police entering the headquarters on the outskirts of Sofia.

A prosecutor's spokeswoman said the raid was part of a probe being conducted by the Specialized Prosecutor's Office and not directly related to the racism matter.

Racist and neo-Nazi exhibitions by fans have raised concerns among soccer officials over recent years, especially in Central and Eastern Europe but also elsewhere, including in Western Europe.

European soccer's governing body UEFA and world body FIFA have stepped up measures to punish national and club teams where such incidents occur. FIFA issued a new Disciplinary Code earlier this year.

Late on October 15, UEFA said it was opening an investigation into the reports of racist abuse at Bulgaria’s match against England.

It said the BFU had been charged with four counts of infringing its disciplinary code -- racist behavior, the throwing of objects, the disruption of the national anthem, and showing replays on the giant screen.

In August, UEFA punished a Bulgarian club for the "racist behavior" of their supporters during a Europa League match.

On August 12, UEFA, which also sanctioned a Serbian team at the time, ordered that Bulgaria's Lokomotiv Plovdiv partially close its stadium for its next home match.

In the 2018 Bulgarian Cup final in Sofia, two young children were filmed giving a Nazi salute, naked to the waist, with inscriptions against police.

In 2017 and 2015, the BFU imposed serious penalties on the CSKA and Levski clubs after fans held up swastikas.

The most recent match, which England won 6-0, was halted twice as local fans hurled insults and directed monkey chants at the visiting players.

England was already 2-0 up in Sofia when the game was halted for the first time in the 28th minute because of monkey chants aimed at England's black players, including defender Tyrone Mings and forward Raheem Sterling.

The public announcer warned that the match could be canceled unless the racist abuse stopped -- the first step in European soccer governing body UEFA's antiracism protocol for games -- but the game had to be halted again in the 43rd minute.

Bulgaria supporters in the crowd were also seen doing Nazi salutes and holding up shirts with the UEFA logo and the text "No respect" -- a reference to UEFA's "Respect" campaign aimed at curbing racism in the sport.

A Bulgaria fan holds up a "No respect" shirt during the game on October 14.
A Bulgaria fan holds up a "No respect" shirt during the game on October 14.

"It is unacceptable for Bulgaria, which is one of the most tolerant countries in the world, and people of different ethnicities and religions live in peace, to be associated with racism and xenophobia," Borisov wrote.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the "vile" incidents.

"This stain on football is not being adequately dealt with," Johnson's spokesman said on October 15. "Racism and discrimination must be driven out of football once and for all."

England's Football Association (FA) issued a statement saying that its players "were subjected to abhorrent racist chanting," which seemed to be aimed mainly at black players like Sterling and Mings.

"This is not the first time our players have been subjected to this level of abuse and there is no place for this kind of behavior in society, let alone in football," the FA said.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, AP, and Reuters
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