Gareth Southgate has urged Uefa to keep increasing sanctions against countries guilty of racism but admitted he was not sure whether expelling Bulgaria from Euro 2020 would have had the desired effect of eradicating discrimination from the game.
The Bulgarian Football Union was ordered to stage its next home match, against the Czech Republic, behind closed doors and fined €75,000 after the incidents during England’s qualifier last month that left play halted twice because of racism from home supporters during the first half.
Southgate, asked whether his players had been let down by Uefa’s punishment, said: “It depends on what we view as being enough. In some respects, if we had thrown Bulgaria out of the competition, that would’ve been easy as well because they’re out [not going to qualify]; OK, they might have a play-off opportunity.
“In my head I’ve got their captain [Ivelin Popov], who probably was as brave as anyone on the field that night, frankly, to go over to your own fans when you’re getting thrashed and to try to affect it in the way he did; I thought was a hugely commendable act. So, would I want to see him as an individual punished? Certainly not, and there were loads of kids in the stadium who were desperate for pictures with our players. So we made friends there.
“There’s no question that we look at Bulgaria and think everything there was wrong. There were clearly people in the ground that have no place – as far as we’re concerned, as football people – in football.
“But those people exist in our stadiums as well and we’re maybe better equipped at stopping them coming into the stadiums and that’s something that, in some countries, they’re going to have to get better at.
“We’ve got to continue the sanctions. I think the sanctions are going to have to get higher and higher, but I couldn’t honestly tell you what the right answer for that would be.”
England’s players decided against walking off in Sofia in order to comply with Uefa’s anti-racism protocols, and Southgate again commended the way they handled such an unpleasant experience. But, after Brescia’s Mario Balotelli threatened to leave the pitch after being targeted with racist abuse by Verona fans in Serie A last weekend, England’s manager said that Uefa must be prepared for more players to take similar action.
“I think what is important is that we highlighted the process, which other clubs that have gone into Europe in the last couple of weeks I think are now more conscious of, because I think for everybody it wasn’t so clear for all that night,” Southgate said. “There is going to be a point actually where that will have to be reviewed because we went to a point and I think if that happens a few times, people are going to say: ‘Well, hang on a minute! What’s the …?’
“It’s far from ideal for everybody. We should be trying to affect as much as we can it happening at all. Then we wouldn’t be talking about the sanctions.”