Bulgarian Soccer Chief Resigns After Fans’ Racist Abuse of England

LONDON — The president of Bulgaria’s soccer union stepped down on Tuesday after the prime minister called on him to resign in the wake of racist abuse that Bulgarian fans hurled at England’s players during a game the night before.

Bulgarian supporters made Nazi salutes and shouted monkey chants at England during a European Championship 2020 qualifier match with Bulgaria’s national team on Monday night in Sofia, the capital. The local team lost 6-0.

Fans’ racial abuse toward players has been a stain on the game for years. And the episode comes as the sport and its governing bodies — including FIFA and UEFA, which oversees European soccer — have struggled to clamp down on the racist abuse of players of color.

Efforts to eradicate discrimination, such as UEFA’s “No to Racism” campaign and English soccer’s equality and inclusion organization, Kick It Out, have made inroads to tackling the issue, but episodes of racial abuse during local and international games have continued.

In Bulgaria, the game was stopped twice in the first half because of the Bulgarian fans’ actions. Tyrone Mings, an England defender making his debut for the national team, who appeared to be a target of the racist chants, told the BBC that he had heard the abuse “as clear as day.”

“It doesn’t affect me too much,” he said, and added, “I feel more sorry for those people who feel they have to have those opinions.”

Mr. Mings also said that the players, manager and supporting staff had spoken about the situation during half time and decided as a group to continue playing.

The chairman of England’s Football Association, Greg Clarke, was in the stadium at the time and said that he had heard “examples of appalling racist chanting,” which left many England players and staff members visibly upset.

England’s team captain, Harry Kane, posted on Twitter that he was proud of the “togetherness” that the team had showed in “disgraceful circumstances.”

“Racism has no place in society or football. It needs stamping out for good,” Mr. Kane added.

The Bulgarian Football Union’s president, Borislav Mihaylov, resigned on Tuesday, after the country’s prime minister, Bokyo Borissov, called for Mr. Mihaylov to step down.

The prime minister said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that he strongly condemned the conduct of some of the fans at the stadium, and said it was “unacceptable” that Bulgaria should be associated with racism.

A short statement posted on the Bulgarian Football Union’s website said Mr. Mihaylov had quit in light of recent tensions that had been “detrimental” to the organization and to Bulgarian soccer.

The Bulgarian team’s response to the fans’ abuse was mixed. The captain, Ivelin Popov, was praised by England player Marcus Rashford — another black soccer star targeted by the racist chants — after Mr. Popov was pictured talking to a group of supporters during half time, thought to be remonstrating their behavior.

But Bulgaria’s goalkeeper, Plamen Iliev, said he had not heard any abuse, adding that he thought the home side’s fans had “behaved well” and that he thought the England players had “overreacted a bit.”

Bulgaria’s coach, Krasimir Balakov, said, “I personally did not hear the chanting,” adding that he would be “truly sorry if it did turn out to be true.”

Before Mr. Mihaylov’s resignation, one of England’s players who appeared to be a target of the discrimination, Raheem Sterling, praised the Bulgarian prime minister’s efforts to get the soccer chief to step down.

Mr. Sterling, who has experienced some of the most scorching racist attacks of any soccer player, has become one of the strongest voices fighting back by calling out discrimination in soccer and in tabloid newspapers’ treatment of black players.

He has leveraged his huge following on social media to do so. After one episode at a Chelsea game, he posted on Instagram: “I am not normally the person to talk a lot. But when I think I need my point to be heard I will speak up.”

England’s team on Monday showed a united front on social media against the discrimination and abuse that they encountered during the match, which it dominated. And several players expressed support for Mr. Kane’s call to take action against racism in soccer.

The game was stopped in the 28th minute and the 43rd minute because of the actions of the Bulgarian fans, some of whom wore black hooded tops and others bandanas to cover their faces.

After the first break in action, an announcement was made in the stadium that the match could be called off unless the racist abuse stopped, in line with UEFA’s three-step anti-racism protocol.

During the second break, dozens of Bulgarian supporters who had been involved in the monkey chanting left the stadium.

Before the match, Mr. Mihaylov, Bulgaria’s soccer chief, had written to UEFA’s general secretary to complain about comments made by England’s manager, Gareth Southgate, about potential racial abuse that his players could face during the Sofia visit.

Mr. Mihaylov had called the England manager’s claims that his players could face discrimination from spectators “offensive” and “derogatory.”

But Mr. Southgate’s comments were prescient.

“This is not the first time our players have been subjected to this level of abuse and there is no place for this kind of behavior in society, let alone in football,” England’s Football Association said on Twitter after the game, calling on UEFA to investigate the episode.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said on Tuesday that the racism England endured during the match was “vile,” and also endorsed the idea that UEFA should conduct an investigation into the matter, “with tough penalties to follow.”

In a statement released on Tuesday, UEFA’s president, Aleksander Ceferin, blamed the rise of nationalism in Europe for encouraging racist behavior.

“UEFA is committed to doing everything it can to eliminate this disease from football,” he said, adding that soccer teams and organizations needed support from governments to “wage war on the racists and to marginalize their abhorrent views to the fringes of society.”