SOFIA, Bulgaria — Hundreds of Bulgarian soccer supporters on Thursday took to the streets of the capital, Sofia, in protest over the administration of the nationwide soccer union, an indication that ultimately turned violent.
The qualifying match between Bulgaria and Hungary for subsequent 12 months’s European soccer championship fell sufferer to a bitter dispute between the administration of the Bulgarian Soccer Union and soccer followers from throughout the Balkan nation.
Minutes earlier than the kickoff, followers started to throw makeshift bombs, stones and plastic bottles on the police. After trash cans have been set on hearth, police responded with water cannon.
Greater than 20 followers and 5 policemen have been injured, emergency service medics stated. 4 of the followers have been admitted to hospitals with critical accidents.
Some 40 folks have been detained and police seized a considerable amount of pyrotechnics, sign pistols, containers, steel pipes and different objects prohibited in mass gatherings.
The final straw that infuriated the followers, whose anger had been simmering for a very long time, got here with the union’s choice to play Thursday’s match in entrance of empty stands on the nationwide stadium within the capital.
Some 1,600 police in riot gear have been dispatched to safe the world across the empty stadium in downtown Sofia.
The Bulgarian nationwide workforce has didn’t qualify for a serious event for almost 20 years. After the most recent two humiliating defeats by Albania and Lithuania in October, followers known as for a nationwide protest, blaming the union’s managers for the poor outcomes and calling for his or her resignations.
In earlier weeks, soccer followers have been shouting “Resign!” within the 18th minute of each championship match, addressing the president of the Bulgarian Soccer Union Borislav Mihaylov and his aides, who’ve been on the helm for the previous 18 years.
Fearing new riots in opposition to his management, final week Mihaylov requested UEFA, the governing physique of European soccer, to order the sport to be performed behind closed doorways as a consequence of distinctive circumstances.
“The Bulgarian Soccer Union has supplied UEFA with vital ensures from the related native authorities and stadium administration in Sofia to host the match on the Vasil Levski Nationwide Stadium with out spectators,” stated a UEFA assertion.
Followers stated the union’s transfer was “unprecedented”, as there is no such thing as a different case in soccer historical past the place a soccer union has voluntarily requested to host a soccer match with out followers.
The choice fueled anger not solely amid Bulgarian followers. The state-run information company BTA reported that many Hungarians with tickets determined to journey to Bulgaria no matter whether or not they could be allowed into the stadium. As they’d already deliberate their journey, they meant to hitch the Bulgarian followers’ protest, in accordance with BTA.