England recently hammered Bulgaria, 6-0, in Sofia. It was, nominally, a good result for the Three Lions, setting up as it did almost certain qualification for the 2020 European Championships. In reality, it was as bad a night as we’ve seen for international football for some time.
The match was marred by racist abuse from the home supporters towards England’s black players, and Bulgaria’s response — their manager Krasimir Balakov accused the Three Lions of making everything up — wasn’t so much a dog whistle as an oversized loudspeaker blaring its endorsement.
UEFA, at least in theory, are committed to stamping out racism in football. And, indeed, they have come down hard on Bulgaria, issuing a €75,000 fine (!), a two-match stadium closure (!!!), of which one will be suspended, and forcing them to display a “No To Racism” banner in their next two home games (!!!!!!!!!). That’ll teach them.
Stadium closures and fines, especially nominal ones, are not going to meaningfully hurt the fans perpetrating racist abuse. Perhaps it was a good idea in theory, but in practice, little has changed since the anti-racism resolution passed at the XXXVII Ordinary UEFA Congress in 2013.
That resolution lays out possible punishment for racist behaviour, and while it presumably had noble intent, it’s clearly no longer fit for purpose. UEFA claim that “the resolution includes encouraging referees to stop, suspend or even abandon a game if racist incidents occur; the imposition of ten-match suspensions on any player or team official found guilty of racist conduct; and stadium closures if fans engage in racist behaviour.” That’s fine, but not enough.
Without a new resolution aimed at points deductions and outright disqualification from international tournaments, UEFA’s punishments for this sort of incident are always going to seem ridiculous. Ridiculous punishments have no value as deterrents, and if UEFA’s guidelines aren’t deterring racist behaviour, can UEFA really be said to care whether or not it happens?
If they do, they can show us.