England manager Gareth Southgate feels UEFA's approach to tackling racist incidents in stadia is unacceptable and he would not hesitate to lead his team off the pitch if required in future.

The subject of racism in society has been at the fore of global discussion since George Floyd died in Minneapolis on May 25. A police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes, sparking protests across the United States and beyond.

England players were subjected to racist abuse during Euro 2020 qualifiers in Montenegro in March 2019 and in Bulgaria last October.

UEFA's three-step procedure for tackling such incidents was initiated during the game in Sofia, with the match twice stopped and announcements made over the stadium's public address system.

The last resort would have been to abandon the match, and Southgate said he would be ready to ensure that step was followed if he found England in a similar situation again.

"It's a strange situation when you're on the side of the pitch, because there are times where you're really attuned to the noise and there are other times where there are obviously chants going on that you can't quite distinguish," Southgate told Sky Sports.

"And in Bulgaria there were moments where it was really clear, when Tyrone Mings had the ball, and I think we were waiting anyway for the situation. In Montenegro that wasn't so clear. We felt a bit underprepared in Montenegro, we didn't even know anything about the UEFA protocols at that time, so we took it upon ourselves over the next period to really prepare ourselves for that night in Bulgaria as a group of players and as a staff.

"We had a long discussion with the players days before the game regarding how they saw it, what they wanted the approach to be, that they were clear we were there to support, that we had the backing of the FA regarding whatever we thought was necessary, but there's also a requirement to follow the regulations as well. We're in a competition, we've got to follow some of those guidelines.

"So we were in a position we wanted and we did the right thing, not just to do something to be seen to be trying to be the heroes and make a stance if it wasn't necessary, but as the evening was going on there were moments in the first half where we didn't think we'd get through the game.

"We had a long discussion at half-time, bearing in mind it really dominated the thinking - thankfully we were well ahead in the game we didn't have to think about the match by that point - and the players were very clear had there been another incident in that second half we were prepared to walk.

"I've heard people say there was abuse in the second half. None of the players were conscious of that, we weren't conscious of that, a big section of the ground were evicted at half-time, so we didn't feel on the night that the next step was appropriate.

"We wouldn't hesitate to go to the next step if we were in that situation again, and I agree, I don't think the protocol of allowing people almost two free hits is really acceptable.

"I agree we've always got to get further and frankly when we're at the point where we're having to take action on the pitch it's gone too far anyway. The situation's got to be addressed before we even get into the stadiums, in society."

Southgate said he had not spoken to any of the Three Lions' black and minority ethnic players about Floyd's death because he knew where they stood on the matter, adding: "It's occupied a lot of my thinking over the past week."

After Raheem Sterling spoke of the need for greater black representation at the top level in the Premier League and FA, and Kick It Out's Troy Townsend criticised the lack of diversity in coaching positions, Southgate said the time has come for significant and sweeping changes.

"I think that's clear across every level of the game and every level of society," he said.

"People have spoken brilliantly this week, [Sport England board member] Chris Grant is somebody who I've met a number of times, has lectured me on a couple of courses and went on about the institutional racism he feels exists in sporting bodies and sporting governance. I think all of those areas are where we've got to focus our attention.

"This feeling that Troy spoke about that people feel there aren't the opportunities there so young black people will refrain from taking qualifications or getting themselves prepared because they feel there is a ceiling to what's possible.

"We need their voices in those decision-making areas and we need to show people the opportunities do exist and that's got to be at every level of the game."

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has insisted his organisation is not blind to the scourge of racism and will implement stronger sanctions on clubs and countries.

European football has been marred by a string of ugly episodes this season, from the monkey noises aimed at Inter striker Romelu Lukaku in a Serie A game against Cagliari to the racist abuse England players suffered during their Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria.

Brescia striker Mario Balotelli and Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Taison both resorted to kicking balls into the stands in separate incidents in Italy and Ukraine last month.

Anti-discrimination body Kick It Out characterised the €75,000 fine handed out to the Bulgarian Football Union as symptomatic of UEFA's weak deterrents and Ceferin admitted more must be done.

He told The Mirror: "I understand that the players are desperate because of the punishments and the incidents that are happening again and again.

"Of course you want say [to UEFA]: 'Go to hell!' I know. But I am not so naive to think that we've done all we can and now everything is finished. We haven't.

"We are trying and we care. We are not just some guys in Nyon sitting eating fancy food and driving Ferraris.

"We are ready to listen to criticism. Every week there is something - not just since Bulgaria, not since England, not since Cagliari. We've been listening.

"Every week we hear about some s*** happening around Europe. And we speak.

"I went recently to the European Union. We speak with governments. We are trying to do something."

Ceferin pledged to investigate avenues for tougher penalties and said UEFA will address its own imbalances.

"Our disciplinary committee and other committees should be more and more diverse," he said.

"We have to bring black members in and we have to bring in more women.

"I agree that sanctions will have to be harsher and harsher. And I'm sure we will. I cannot tell you more but we will rethink all the disciplinary regulation and diversity in the disciplinarian gravity.

"In the future, one of the governing bodies where this happens will have to have severe sanctions, I know."

But the Slovenian administrator stopped short of agreeing to competition bans, saying: "I know we have to do more. But tell me which club was thrown out of the Premier League? And you have incidents almost every week. Also in Italy.

"The media attention is their oxygen."

Scotland have been drawn against Israel in the Euro 2020 play-off semi-finals.

Aiming to reach their first major finals in 22 years, Steve Clarke's side will face Israel in a one-legged tie at Hampden Park on March 26.

The winner of that match will go on to face either Norway or Serbia in the Path C final five days later.

Scotland beat Israel 3-2 at Hampden Park last November en route to topping their Nations League group and Clarke is after a repeat result in four months' time.

"The draw is what it is," he told Sky Sports News. "I never get too carried away about who you are going to play. 

"It would been nice to repeat the home win, but the match will come with its own level of pressure, which we will have to embrace.

"Being at home is very important for us. I'm sure Hampden will be full, with the Tartan Army on the march. It's a great stadium when it's full, so if we start fast we can get them all behind us."

Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland are on course to meet in the Path B final, having been drawn away to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovakia respectively in the semis.

In Path A, Romania travel to Iceland and Bulgaria host Hungary, while Belarus are at Georgia and North Macedonia face Kosovo in Path D.

The four play-off winners will join the 20 teams that have already qualified for the finals, which will take place in 12 different cities next year.

Women's World Cup winner Megan Rapinoe has called on clubs, officials and fan groups to do more to eradicate racism from football.

Rapinoe highlighted the €75,000 (£65,000) fine given to Bulgaria by UEFA last month following evidence of racist abuse during the Euro 2020 qualifier with England as an example of where the sport is continuing to fall short.

Bulgaria were also ordered to play two games behind closed doors - the second of which is suspended for two years - in a decision Rapinoe branded "an absolute joke".

"We're not going to accept this. This is not something that's going to be in our game," she told BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat.

"So I feel like all of the clubs and the presidents and fan groups and everyone, you know, frankly are failing these players.

"If you're ever caught doing anything racist you should be banned for life. That's just the end of it. I mean £65,000 is an absolute joke.

"For me I'm just like, make it super extreme so it's damaging to the team, to the federation, so it's damaging financially."

Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling played in England's recent qualifier in Sofia and has been praised for speaking out about racism.

Rapinoe has urged others to follow his example.

"I need all the players on Raheem's team, all the players in the Premier League and in the leagues abroad to make it their problem because it really is everybody's issue," she said.

Rapinoe won the Golden Ball and Golden Boot as the United States defended their World Cup crown earlier this year, before collecting the Best FIFA Women's Player award in September.

Gareth Southgate believes the racist abuse suffered by England's players in Bulgaria last month brought the squad closer together.

England's 6-0 Euro 2020 qualifying win on October 14 was marred by the actions of a group of home supporters, who targeted the likes of Tyrone Mings, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling with racist abuse.

Nazi salutes in home sections of the stadium were also witnessed, and the match was twice halted.

UEFA has imposed a two-match stadium ban on Bulgaria - the second of which is suspended for two years - and fined them €75,000.

England manager Southgate is proud of his players for the way they dealt with the situation and hopes to never experience anything like it again.

"I'm sure any team going through a situation like that, you'll definitely feel closer together," he told a news conference on Thursday. 

"The players backed each other during the game. It's not an outcome we want to be pleased or shouting about because it's not a situation we want to ever go through again. None of us look back on it with great pleasure or want anyone to have to experience it. 

"The best thing we can do is to continue to work as we do as a team, see how close the team are, the diversity of the team from different backgrounds and see how they're a group of brothers who come together and want to play and enjoy each other's company. That in itself is a huge message to society.

"I'm still very proud of the players for the way they dealt with it.

"The ongoing issue is one of education, across the world, really. We've spoken about that more than I should have needed to in the last few years, but it's the situation we're in and we still have work to do."

Many had called on UEFA to make an example of Bulgaria after the governing body's president Aleksander Ceferin vowed to "wage war on the racists", with anti-discrimination campaigners Football Against Racism in Europe dissatisfied with the sanction handed down.

Southgate took a more liberal stance, saying: "I think the punishment is really difficult. Whatever happens, we'll all have an individual view on it. 

"For me, the important thing was that the subject was highlighted, the importance of it and the fact that our players 'owned the moment', if you want."

England conclude their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a home match against Montenegro on November 14 and a trip to Kosovo three days later.

The Bulgarian Football Union has also been fined $94,000 (€85,000) for the "racist behavior of its supporters and the throwing of objects" and "causing disturbances during a national anthem." $83,000 of the fine was for "racist behavior."

The Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) praised their own "persistent efforts" to combat racism after avoiding more severe sanctions from UEFA in relation to their game against England on October 14.

England cruised to a 6-0 win in the Euro 2020 qualifier that was hosted in Bulgaria's capital Sofia, but the contest was marred by racist chants and Nazi salutes from sections of the crowd.

The match was paused twice by officials due to the incidents, which subsequently dominated the news agenda, as the BFU president and head coach Krasimir Balakov quit their respective posts.

UEFA had been urged to make an example of Bulgaria, but their decision to impose a two-match stadium ban – the second of which is suspended for two years – and a €75,000 fine has been met with antipathy from anti-discrimination campaigners.

However, in a statement, the BFU claimed their "persistent efforts to combat racism, xenophobia and tribal intolerance" had helped them steer clear of more serious punishment.

"The Bulgarian Football Union would like to emphasise that the incidents of October 14 at Vasil Levski St., which provoked a huge international response and created great public tension, failed to prevent the professional and effective response of all departments and units [of the BFU]," the statement read.

"Thanks to the diligent and competent work of the BFU administration and the Union's legal partners, as well as the persistent efforts to combat racism, xenophobia and tribal intolerance, the Bulgarian national team avoided more severe sanctions."

The BFU also reiterated their stance that supporters have been unfairly accused of intolerance.

"We sincerely believe that in the future the Bulgarian football fans will prove with their behaviour that they have unjustifiably become the subject of accusations of lack of tolerance and respect for their opponents," the statement continued.

"This will be of benefit to all - for football players as well as fans, as well as for Bulgaria's international sporting prestige."

Kick It Out has demanded an overhaul in UEFA's disciplinary process in response to incidents of racist abuse.

UEFA on Tuesday ordered Bulgaria to play two games behind closed doors – one of which is suspended for two years – and handed down a €75,000 fine following the racist behaviour of some of their fans during a Euro 2020 qualifier against England on October 14.

The Three Lions' 6-0 victory in Sofia was overshadowed by England players being targeted by discriminatory chants, leading to the match being halted on two occasions. Some Bulgaria supporters were also seen making Nazi salutes.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin vowed in the aftermath of the game the governing body would "wage war on the racists", while Kick It Out demanded the organisation "showed leadership".

However, UEFA's punishment has been deemed unsatisfactory by the campaign group.

"We are disheartened, but not surprised, to learn of UEFA's response to the racist abuse directed at England players," a statement read.

"In our view, they have missed another opportunity to send an uncompromising message on racism and discrimination.

"The current sanctions, however 'tough' UEFA think they may be, are clearly not working and leave victims with little faith in their ability to prevent abusive behaviour.

"We feel UEFA's entire disciplinary process in response to racial discrimination should be overhauled and urge them to explain the decision-making process behind their sanctions for incidents of discrimination."

Liverpool youngster Rhian Brewster - who alleged he was racially abused by Spartak Moscow's Leonid Mironov during a UEFA Youth League match in 2017 but saw the case dropped due to a lack of evidence - labelled the sanctions "embarrassing".

"Another embarrassing verdict," the teenager tweeted. "Two games behind closed doors for Nazi salutes and racism. The world needs to wake up."

UEFA's decision to impose a two-match home stadium ban on Bulgaria for the racist behaviour of supporters during a match against England has underwhelmed anti-discrimination campaigners Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE).

England crushed Bulgaria 6-0 in Sofia on October 14, but the match was marred by the actions of a group of home fans, who targeted Tyrone Mings, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling with racist abuse.

Nazi salutes in home sections of the ground were also seen and the match was twice brought to a halt by officials.

UEFA confirmed the punishment on Tuesday, with Bulgaria set to play against the Czech Republic behind closed doors in November, with the second game of the ban suspended for two years.

Many had called on UEFA to make an example of Bulgaria after the governing body's president Aleksander Ceferin vowed to "wage war on the racists", but FARE is dissatisfied with the sanction handed down.

FARE executive director Piara Powar said: "We welcome the speed of this decision, but we are disappointed that Bulgaria will not be expelled from the Euro 2020 qualifying competition given their previous record, and obvious inability to deal with the problems they face.

"We think that the evidence and circumstances of this match would have justified European football being given a stronger signal on the need to tackle racism.

"Obtaining justice for racist acts is not easy in any setting, it is clear that football is no exception.

"We will be in touch with UEFA to explore options and maintain that Bulgaria and others in the same situation fundamentally reappraise how they deal with racism."

The Football Association (FA) also addressed UEFA's ruling and reiterated a call to stamp out racism, though there was no indication as to whether it was content with the punishment.

"We sincerely hope the disgraceful scenes in Sofia are never repeated," an FA statement read.

"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, 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."

UEFA's decision to impose a two-match home stadium ban on Bulgaria for the racist behaviour of supporters during a match against England has underwhelmed anti-discrimination campaigners Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE).

England crushed Bulgaria 6-0 in Sofia on October 14, but the match was marred by the actions of a group of home fans, who targeted Tyrone Mings, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling with racist abuse.

Nazi salutes in home sections of the ground were also seen and the match was twice brought to a halt by officials.

UEFA confirmed the punishment on Tuesday, with Bulgaria set to play against the Czech Republic behind closed doors in November, with the second game of the ban suspended for two years.

Many had called on UEFA to make an example of Bulgaria after the governing body's president Aleksander Ceferin vowed to "wage war on the racists", but FARE is dissatisfied with the sanction handed down.

FARE executive director Piara Powar said: "We welcome the speed of this decision, but we are disappointed that Bulgaria will not be expelled from the Euro 2020 qualifying competition given their previous record, and obvious inability to deal with the problems they face.

"We think that the evidence and circumstances of this match would have justified European football being given a stronger signal on the need to tackle racism.

"Obtaining justice for racist acts is not easy in any setting, it is clear that football is no exception.

"We will be in touch with UEFA to explore options and maintain that Bulgaria and others in the same situation fundamentally reappraise how they deal with racism."

The Football Association (FA) also addressed UEFA's ruling and reiterated a call to stamp out racism, though there was no indication as to whether it was content with the punishment.

"We sincerely hope the disgraceful scenes in Sofia are never repeated," an FA statement read.

"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, 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."

Bulgaria must play next month's home match against the Czech Republic behind closed doors as punishment for fans aiming racist abuse at England players in the recent Euro 2020 qualifier, UEFA has said.

England’s 6-0 win in Sofia on October 14 was tarnished by the behaviour of a group of home supporters, who targeted the likes of Tyrone Mings, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling with racist abuse. Nazi salutes in home sections of the stadium were also witnessed.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin vowed European football’s governing body would "wage war on the racists", amid the outcry that followed the game.

Its decision to impose a two-game closed-doors punishment – with the second of those games suspended for two years – may not appease those who called for a robust reaction from UEFA.

The Bulgarian Football Union [BFU] must also display a ‘No To Racism' banner at the national team’s next two UEFA competition matches, and has been fined 75,000 euros for the racist behaviour and throwing of objects during the England game.

UEFA added, in a statement revealing the punishments imposed by its control, ethics and disciplinary body, that it had also imposed a fine of 10,000 euros on the BFU for disrupting England’s national anthem. The BFU was also issued with a warning over the showing of replays on a big screen.

The English Football Association [FA] was fined 5,000 euros for fans disrupting Bulgaria’s national anthem, with a separate charge regarding stewarding levels put back until a November 21 hearing.

Bulgaria sit bottom of Group A in Euro 2020 qualifying. Confirmation of the closed-doors punishment could bolster second-placed Czech Republic’s hopes of an away victory in the November 17 fixture between the teams, as the Czechs bid to secure a place in the finals.

UEFA did not immediately detail whether its ruling would mean Czech fans intending to travel to the game at the Vasil Levski national stadium would have their plans thwarted.

Bulgaria must play next month's home match against the Czech Republic behind closed doors as punishment for fans aiming racist abuse at England players in the recent Euro 2020 qualifier, UEFA has said.

Krasimir Balakov has resigned as head coach of Bulgaria four days on from the 6-0 Euro 2020 qualifying loss to England that was marred by racist abuse.

The Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) confirmed Balakov's departure following a meeting of its executive committee on Friday.

In a statement, the BFU attributed the 53-year-old's resignation to substandard performances.

Bulgaria succumbed to a heavy defeat against the Three Lions in Sofia but not before their supporters subjected England players to racist chants, which forced the match to twice be halted in the first half.

"The performance of Bulgaria's men's national team in recent months has been described as unsatisfactory, which is why the national coach Krasimir Balakov resigned, which was accepted by the members of the [executive committee]," the BFU's statement read.

Balakov initially said he did not hear the abuse directed at England's players at Vasil Levski National Stadium but later apologised to Gareth Southgate's squad and condemned the behaviour of the fans responsible.

"I would like to say very clearly: since there were cases of racial discrimination in Sofia, I would like to sincerely apologise to the English footballers and to all those who felt offended," Balakov wrote in a letter posted to his official Facebook page.

Balakov's decision to quit after five months in charge follows that of BFU president Borislav Mihaylov, who was urged to stand down by Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov.

The organisation's former vice-president Mikhail Kasabov has been temporarily installed as Mihaylov's replacement after two others rejected the opportunity, with an extraordinary congress to elect a new board on the agenda.

The BFU is facing disciplinary proceedings from UEFA in response to the ugly scenes at Monday's match, during which several supporters appeared to perform Nazi salutes.

Mauricio Pochettino hailed stand-in Tottenham captain Harry Kane as a "natural leader" as he reflected on the England skipper's response to the racism row in Bulgaria.

Kane will take the Spurs armband in the absence of injured goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in the coming months, while he is also England's captain.

The striker's role with the Three Lions put him at the forefront of the controversial Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia on Monday, which was twice stopped due to racist abuse from the crowd.

Kane stood by his team-mates as they followed UEFA's protocol and ultimately saw out a 6-0 win, later describing his pride at the way England players had acted in testing circumstances.

Pochettino, discussing Kane's more prominent Tottenham role on Thursday, said: "He's become a natural leader. He's great.

"His commitment, not only for Tottenham but the national team, is fantastic for England and Tottenham. We will miss Hugo for a few months and to have Harry to step up is important, like others who are important and mature.

"They will step up and handle problems when they happen like this. It's good to see how he behaved and of course he showed great maturity."

Asked specifically about the Bulgaria match, the Spurs boss added: "I'm going to respect players always. The way Harry behaved was top.

"The way he handled the situation on Monday was exemplary. He showed calm, followed the rules. We're so proud of how he behaved.

"But of course, when you're on the touchline, you need to understand the players always have rights and it's difficult to be in their position, know how they feel when they suffer abuse like this. That's why I will always support my players.

"Harry handled everything perfectly, I want to congratulate him. He was calm, the situation was always under control. He showed great maturity in these situations which are not always easy to manage."

As well as missing Lloris, Tottenham are waiting for news on star midfielder Christian Eriksen, who suffered a dead leg on international duty with Denmark.

Bulgaria great Hristo Stoichkov fought back tears in a TV appearance as he demanded action over the racist abuse England players suffered in their Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia.

The former Ballon d'Or winner suggested "heavier punishments" than stadium closures could be required in response to the shameful scenes that marred Monday's match.

A section of Bulgaria supporters aimed monkey chants at Raheem Sterling, Tyrone Mings and Marcus Rashford and were also seen performing Nazi salutes.

Bulgarian Football Union president Borislav Mihaylov stepped down amid the fallout and UEFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against the organisation.

The abuse witnessed at Vasil Levski National Stadium moved 53-year-old Stoichkov during an appearance on TUDN programme Futbol Central.

"People don't deserve to suffer," Stoichkov said, before becoming emotional and hanging his head.

Play was twice halted in the first half on Monday before a group of fans were ejected from the ground.

Asked about about a suitable sanction, former Barcelona forward Stoichkov said: "That fans are not allowed in the stadium, or even heavier punishments, like in England a few years ago."

Stoichkov did not specify a particular incident involving punishment in England. He may have meant the ban from European club competitions imposed after the 1985 Heysel Stadium disaster, when English clubs were barred from UEFA competitions for five years, and Liverpool excluded for a further year.

The Sofia stadium that hosted Monday's match had already been partially closed as a result of racist behaviour from fans during qualifiers against Kosovo and the Czech Republic in June.

Bulgaria head coach Krasimir Balakov issued an apology on Wednesday and condemned the racist abuse after initially stating he did not hear it occur during his team's 6-0 defeat.

"I would like to say very clearly: since there were cases of racial discrimination in Sofia, I would like to sincerely apologise to the English footballers and to all those who felt offended," Balakov said.

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