For the first time the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) hosted a national-level conference to discuss problems associated with racism and xenophobia in football.
On 12 November the FA invited all 44 professional clubs, fan groups, representatives of ministries and NGOs as well as players and high profile athletes, including Stefka Kostadinowa, the world record holder in the women's high jump, to the event at the Grand Hotel Sofia. Valeriu Nicolae from Romania and Kurt Wachter from Austria talked on behalf of the FARE network at the event.
In his opening statement FA president Borislav Mihaylov – who captained Bulgaria at the FIFA World 1994 when they finished fourth – stressed the dedication of his organisation to eradicate racism from the game:
“A footballer is a footballer, no matter what ethnicity, skin colour or religion”.
Bulgarian football has witnessed an increase in racist incidences. In the national league Botev Plodiv supporters engaged recently in racist mass chanting against the Cameroonian goal-keeper of PFC Beroe, Daniel Bekono and Lokomotiv Sofia fans displayed a banner saying
“You are born Gypsies and will die as Turks”. In the UEFA Cup quarterfinal 2006 Levski Sofia supporters directed racist “monkey chants” at Schalke player Gerald Asamoah. In season 2005/06 CSKA Sofia were fined 19,500 euros after racist chanting at French striker Djibril Cisse in the home leg of their Champions League qualifying match against Liverpool.
Message from Michel Platini: “Extreme importance to the fight against racism ”
At the conference, titled “Bulgarian football against racism”, Stefan Ormandjiev, Vice-president of the Bulgarian Football Union and responsible for the anti-racism agenda read out a letter from UEFA president Michel Platini:
“UEFA adhors the use of football to promote racism and any other form of discrimination, and we congratulate the Bulgarian Football Union for taking a strong stand against racism, xenophobia and violence. The unfortunate recent events in Bulgarian football illustrate the need for continued action, including educational activities. UEFA attaches extreme importance to the continued fight against racism ”
“First time to discuss racism openly”
In the closing session a series of players in the Bulgarian league gave testimony about their personal experience with racism and the response of the team and clubs.
Moke Masena-Matele, a forward with PFC Cherno More Varna, who hails form the Democratic Republic of Congo said:
“I have been 7 years in Bulgaria and today is the first time that we discuss the racism issue openly. I have felt racist abuse personally and if you are on the pitch you can’t miss such an ugly thing. It spoils your concentration and you get depressed. I have also been abused by players of the opposing team and I have tried to tell the referee, but they have never acted. We have to admit that racism is certainly present and that Bulgarian football has to get rid of it.”
Other players contributing included national team player Velizar Dimitrov and his Nigerian team mate at CSKA Sofia, Shaloze “Mitgo” Udoji Chigozie as well as the Brazilian midfielder of Litex Lovech, Wellington Brito da Silva (“Tom”) and Slavai Sofia striker Deniran Ortega , who originated from Nigeria.