UEFA forces Bulgaria to play in empty stadium after racism vs England
Gary Parkinson
Bulgaria vs England was played in this partly empty stadium. Next time, it will be completely closed (Credit: AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

Bulgaria vs England was played in this partly empty stadium. Next time, it will be completely closed (Credit: AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

The Bulgarian national football team must play a game in an empty stadium after its fans' racist behavior against England almost caused the abandonment of a Euro 2020 qualifying match. As per a new protocol, England's players came close to walking off the pitch in Sofia, before staying to complete a 6-0 win. 

Read more UEFA's three-step protocols for combating racism - and punishing it

European football's governing body UEFA levied charges against the Bulgarian Football Union of racist behavior, throwing of objects, disruption of a national anthem and displaying replays on a giant screen. Levying an $83,000 fine for the racist behavior, UEFA ordered Bulgaria to play two games behind closed doors, but the second is suspended for a probationary period of two years. 

Bulgaria had already been forced to play the game against England in a partially empty stadium as a punishment for racist behavior during earlier qualifying games. The judgment accords with UEFA's usual second-stage punishment of a stadium ban and a fine; any further infringement could result in Bulgaria forfeiting a match, being deducted points or even being disqualified from UEFA competition.

UEFA's Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body also charged both Bulgaria and England for disruption during the national anthems: the Bulgarian FA was fined $11,000, the English FA $5,500. A further charge against England, over an insufficient number of traveling stewards, will be dealt with next month. 

"We sincerely hope the disgraceful scenes in Sofia are never repeated," said the English FA via Twitter. "Our priority remains our players, support team and fans and we will do all we can to ensure they never have to endure such circumstances again. 

"While we acknowledge UEFA's ruling today, a huge challenge still exists around racism and discrimination in society. Football has its part to play, and must do so, but it is for all to recognise the seriousness of the problem. 

"While those responsible for such deplorable behaviour at home or abroad need to be held to account, we should not lose sight of the importance of education programmes in finding a long-term solution. 

"That has to be the way forward to help address the root cause of such disgusting behaviour. We are ready to build on our work with UEFA, Kick It Out and the FARE network in any positive way we can."