UEFA president wants 'war on racists' after Bulgaria abuse

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has urged governments to escalate the "war on the racists" to help football authorities eliminate it from stadiums after England players faced abuse in Bulgaria.

In a statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday, Ceferin blamed a rise in nationalism across Europe for fuelling racism at matches and said UEFA was committed to imposing strong punishments.

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The European Championship qualifier in Sofia was stopped twice on Monday as Bulgarian fans made Nazi salutes and directed monkey noises at England players.

"Believe me, UEFA is committed to doing everything it can to eliminate this disease from football," Ceferin told the AP. "We cannot afford to be content with this. We must always strive to strengthen our resolve.

"More broadly, the football family -- everyone from administrators to players, coaches and fans -- needs to work with governments and NGOs [non-governmental organisations] to wage war on the racists and to marginalise their abhorrent views to the fringes of society."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Downing Street office called on UEFA to impose tough penalties on Bulgaria.

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "The racism we saw and heard last night was vile and has no place in football or anywhere else. The England players and management showed tremendous dignity. The prime minister commends the players who were targeted for this despicable abuse for their response. Uefa need to face up to facts. This stain on football is not being adequately dealt with."

Ceferin sees eradicating racism as part of a wider effort.

"Football associations themselves cannot solve this problem," Ceferin said. "Governments too need to do more in this area. Only by working together in the name of decency and honour will we make progress."

As UEFA awaited reports from the match delegate and referee, its racism monitoring partner, the Fare network, called on Bulgaria to be blocked from qualifying for Euro 2020 as punishment for repeated racism offences.

Ceferin maintains that UEFA's "sanctions are among the toughest in sport" and that the organisation was willing to get tough.

"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," Ceferin said.

Monday's game was played in a partially closed stadium as punishment for racist behaviour by Bulgaria fans during a home qualifier against Kosovo. A 3,000-seat section of Vasil Levski National Stadium was already due to be closed for the Czech Republic's visit next month because of another racist incident in June when Bulgaria played in Prague.

But Bulgaria's soccer federation could be in line for a stronger punishment if UEFA's disciplinary panel decides Monday's incident was a third offence in Euro 2020 qualifying.