Football: Racists must be 'kicked out' of stadiums, says Fifa boss; 6 Bulgarians held and one teen charged

Raheem Sterling scoring England's fourth goal in their Euro 2020 qualifying 6-0 win against Bulgaria at Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia on Oct 14, 2019. He was among the players abused.
Raheem Sterling scoring England's fourth goal in their Euro 2020 qualifying 6-0 win against Bulgaria at Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia on Oct 14, 2019. He was among the players abused. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES VIA REUTERS

DHAKA (AFP) - Racists must be "kicked out" of stadiums, Fifa president Gianni Infantino said on Thursday (Oct 17), as he pressed for a worldwide ban on spectators who abuse black footballers.

Speaking days after England's Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria was twice stopped because of chants targeting English players, he insisted the world body would punish racism.

"If there are racists that abuse footballers, we have to stop the game," he told a press conference on a visit to Dhaka.

"We cannot let the racists win. The football has to continue and we have to punish the people," he said.

Thanks to CCTV footage from the national stadium, Sofia police have so far identified nine suspects in the stands, part of a group of black-clad fans, who directed the abuse at England players.

Six Bulgarians have been held for abuse at the game when monkey chants and apparent Nazi salutes overshadowed England's 6-0 win. Three more are being sought.

One 18-year-old was indicted on Wednesday for using Nazi salutes and four others have been fined and banned from sports events for two years.

"One 18-year-old was indicted late Wednesday for grave hooliganism and ordered detained in custody for 72 more hours," Sofia regional prosecution spokesman Nevena Zartova told AFP.

According to the indictment, the man used obscene hand gestures and Nazi salutes and turned his back to the field and pulled down his trousers twice. If found guilty, he could face up to five years in jail.

"Out of the other five, four were handed 1,000-leva (S$777) fines and two-year bans from sports events.

Procedures against the fifth, who is underage, are still ongoing," Sofia police directorate spokesman Svetoslava Kostadinova said.

England manager Gareth Southgate told reporters after the game that his side had been ready to walk off the pitch if the abusive behaviour continued but players decided to complete the match.

Infantino added that it was now easy to identify the culprits in modern stadiums with closed-circuit TV and that a "strong message" must be sent.

"They have to be taken, kicked out of the stadium, they must not be allowed to enter into football stadiums any more, and criminal proceedings should be brought against them.

"It's a crime and it should be a crime in all countries of the world to commit racial abuse," he said.

Infantino reaffirmed that if a country bans a spectator because of racism, "Fifa will extend it worldwide because racists have no place in football in any country and no place in any football stadium or arena in any part of the world".

He had already condemned the incident at the Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia in a statement on Tuesday, calling racism an "obnoxious disease that seems to be getting even worse in some parts of the world".

He said on Thursday that on top of stadium action, better education was needed.

"We have to educate our youth, our children and those who are a bit older as well," he said.

He also said that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar "will be the very best World Cup ever" despite new controversy over the heat and empty stadiums after the world athletics championships in September saw some long distance races badly affected.

The Fifa boss insisted that it would be cooler as the football tournament would be in November and December.

"I am sure in Qatar we will witness from a technical point of view, the very best World Cup ever."

He also expressed confidence that the stadiums would be "full".

"Football is the No. 1 sport in the world. We will fill the stadiums in Qatar and anywhere else in the World easily with the World Cup."