Don’t criticise England for playing on in Bulgaria – UEFA failed them

England's players should be praised for their dignity, not over their decision to play on

England Tyrone Mings

Here we are again.

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An England football match on the continent – against Bulgaria – provided us with sights of Nazi salutes and sounds of monkeys.

Much of the pre-match build-up revolved around the actions of England players should the inevitable come to pass: to walk off, or to play on.

The post-match analysis has also been laced with the question of whether to walk.

Portions of the internet, from social media keyboard warriors to mainstream tabloid news outlets, have criticised England players for not leaving the pitch on their own accord.

Simply, this should not have been their call to make.

The Three Lions opted to trust UEFA, the hosts and organisers, and their protocols, and were badly let down.

UEFA’s three-step racism protocol

Step 1: “Stop the match and instruct the stadium authorities to read out an announcement, calling upon the spectators to stop the discriminatory behaviour.”

Step 2: “If this announcement does not have the desired effect, make another announcement, suspend the match and send the players to their dressing rooms for a specific period.”

Step 3: “After consultation, abandon the match if the discriminatory behaviour still does not cease or breaks out again.”

They chose to plough on, recycled hatred into fuel and battered Bulgaria into submission on the pitch – a 6-0 rout.

Had Gareth Southgate and his men defied UEFA protocol, they may have perversely felt the wrath of the governing body and points may have even been awarded to the Bulgarians – hardly a deterrent for fans of a team who played like San Marino with a hangover.

Southgate, captain Harry Kane, players targeted – including and not limited to debutant Tyrone Mings – and the rest of the England camp should be praised, to a man, for their dignified response, their calm yet steadfast unity.

In leaving the decision in the hands of UEFA, England have piled the pressure on as the protocols failed.

Step 1 was followed to no effect.

Step 2 was extended to England, though being close to half time, the Three Lions chose to play on.

Step 3 – as the abuse continued – never came.

Bulgaria v England - UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier
England’s Marcus Rashford celebrates with team mates after he scores

UEFA should not be tasked with the responsibility of re-educating, influencing or correcting skewed ideals of the groups involved, that would require a far-wider societal response, but they are very much responsible for shutting down events in cases of constant, flagrant racial abuse.

They did not.

There is no definitive correct way to ‘resolve’ the issue of racism, and it will require more than a football governing body to cleanse our world of it, yet UEFA must, absolutely must, abide by their own protocols.

UEFA can’t change the ideals of racist groups who cling to an obscene idea that skin colour determines whether they should hate a person or not, but they can squash shameless displays out of their stadiums, off mainstream TV screens.

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This wasn’t the England players’ call to make, whether to walk or not. UEFA failed them.