From the Viewsroom

It’s just not football

B Baskar | Updated on October 18, 2019 Published on October 17, 2019

The Bulgarian fans’ behaviour brought shame to the sport and themselves

Sport can be sublime and the performance of sportspersons has often been compared with art. The accomplishments of sportspersons, especially those achieved against severe odds, have justly been celebrated over the years.

But sport has also always had a dark and ugly side to it. This was in full display on Monday, when England played Bulgaria at the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia during a Euro qualifier match. The match was marred by constant racist chanting by the home fans — especially during the first half — with a section of the crowd even indulging in a display of Nazi salutes. The racist chanting was so bad that play had to be stopped twice to warn the crowd of abandoning the match.

In the midst of all this nasty behaviour, the England team has won all-round praise for keeping its composure and continuing with the match. Tyrone Mings of England must have wondered what he did to deserve such a vile atmosphere, that too on his debut match for his nation. But he soldiered on, despite having the option of walking off the pitch. Incredibly enough, the Bulgarian goalkeeper Plamen Illiev did not find anything wrong with some home fans’ behaviour and even added that the England players were “overreacting”. Bulgarian manager Krasimir Balakov even said that he had not heard anything untoward — but after much pressure, he apologised for the home fans’ racist behaviour. Bulgarian football chief Borislav Mihaylov resigned after these sordid events, but not without initially trying to weather the storm.

Racism was rife in the world of football in the 1970s and 80s, especially in England. England’s football “hooligans” were much dreaded when they travelled abroad to watch their team play. But things improved remarkably in the 1990s, and now we have only isolated incidents of racist behaviour in English stadiums. But the ‘racism virus’ has now caught on in some countries in Eastern Europe, and the UEFA must do more to eradicate it.

The writer is Deputy Editor with BusinessLine

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Published on October 17, 2019
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