FIFA president Infantino calls for life bans for fans guilty of racist abuse

FIFA president Gianni Infantino wants to see worldwide life bans imposed on fans found guilty of racist abuse.

UEFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against Bulgaria and England following Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia, which was stopped twice as Bulgarian fans made Nazi salutes and directed monkey noises 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.

The English Football Association has also been charged with disruption of a national anthem, as well as providing an insufficient number of travelling stewards.

Infantino called for “all football governing bodies” to come together and come up with “new, stronger and more effective ways to eradicate racism in football”.

He said in a statement: “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.”

Bulgaria v England – UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying – Group A – Vasil Levski National Stadium
England fans show their support in the stands during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying match at the Vasil Levski National Stadium (Nick Potts/PA)

Following UEFA’s anti-racism protocols, an announcement was made in the 28th minute of the match warning fans that any further incidents of racist abuse could result in it being abandoned, while another pause before half-time only added to the nasty spectacle.

A three-step protocol from the governing body would have allowed the officials to take the teams off for a break in play as a second measure before ultimately taking the final step of abandoning the game.

Infantino, who during his time at UEFA introduced that protocol, added: “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.”

UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin underlines the commitment of European football’s governing body to tackle racism…

— UEFA (@UEFA) October 15, 2019

The cases against the BFU and FA will be dealt with by UEFA’s control, ethics and disciplinary body, with the date of the meeting yet to be confirmed. FIFA said it would extend any sanctions worldwide.

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

The group decided to finish the match during a half-time discussion, but 10 minutes before the break he spoke to assistant Steve Holland about the likelihood of the match being called off given the racist abuse inside the Vasil Levski National Stadium.

Asked about what should be done in terms of punishment, Southgate said: “I really think other people have got to deal with that.

Bulgaria v England – UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying – Group A – Vasil Levski National Stadium
England manager Gareth Southgate, third right, hailed the way his players dealt with the racist abuse (Nick Potts/PA)

“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”.

Aleksander Ceferin file photo
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin called for a tough stance on racism in the game (Niall Carson/PA)

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

The Slovenian added that 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. But some of the views expressed about UEFA’s approach to fighting racism have been a long way off the mark,” he said.

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

He 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.

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