Gareth Southgate has briefed England’s players about UEFA’s three-step racism protocol ahead of the upcoming international against Bulgaria, defender Fikayo Tomori has confirmed.
The Three Lions will attempt to seal qualification for Euro 2020 in the Czech Republic on Friday, before heading to Bulgaria for a Group A clash on Monday.
There are concerns about that match at the Natsionalen Stadion Vasil Levski, with Southgate taking the unusual step of expressing concerns a month in advance about the potential for racism in Sofia.
The England manager has now spoken to his players about the potential issues in Bulgaria on Monday, explaining in detail the system in place should players be subjected to racism.
“It was just about if it does happen, which unfortunately it does sometimes, what we need to do, what the protocol is,” uncapped Chelsea centre-back Tomori said.
“He just kind of briefed us about what was going to happen, and we should be prepared for that because we know that sometimes you can go to countries and stuff like that can happen unfortunately.
“We are just there to play the game and whatever happens in the stands and whatever, we’ll let the authorities deal with that. That is all the meeting was about.
“Sometimes it happens, unfortunately.
“We have to kind of deal with it in a way, know what we need to do, try not to overlook it. We have to talk about it.
“I think everyone knows that it happens, and we all know that some people maybe they think it is right or they don’t really understand it. We have to be prepared for that.”
UEFA’s three-step procedure sees the referee at first stop the match and ask for an announcement demanding the immediate halt of such racist behaviour.
The second step, if the racism does not cease, sees the referee suspend the match for a reasonable period of time and request the teams to go to the dressing room as a further announcement is made over the public address system. If the racist behaviour continues, the match will be abandoned.
Tomori said: “I think loads of people in the dressing room here have different experiences of racism so everyone has their own kind of take on it and the ways they deal with it.
“The manager yesterday told us what the steps are that need to be taken. I am sure everyone will take those steps.”
Tomori is glad the protocols are in place to deal with such issues ahead of England’s first trip to Bulgaria since September 2011, when a 3-0 win was overshadowed by racist abuse.
Ashley Young was subjected to monkey chants in Sofia, but the Bulgarian Football Union (BFS) only received a 40,000 euros (£34,000) fine by UEFA for “discriminatory” chanting and for the lighting and throwing of fireworks.
The stadium will already be partially closed for England’s latest visit due to the racist behaviour of their supporters in the 2-1 loss in the Czech Republic in June.
The BFS is required to block off at least 5,000 seats for the visit of Southgate’s men and display a banner with the wording ‘#EqualGame’.
Bulgaria’s return fixture against the Czechs is also due to be played at a partially-closed ground due to racist behaviour in the 3-2 home loss to Kosovo in their other June fixture.
And in August, Bulgarian sides Levski Sofia and PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv 1926 were both ordered to play their next UEFA matches in partially-closed stadiums due to racist behaviour in their respective Europa League qualifiers.
Despite all that, the Bulgarian Football Union described Southgate’s racism concerns as “groundless, inappropriate and unnecessary” – but following the racist abuse of England’s players in Montenegro in March, it is hard to blame the manager for being prepared.
“What happened last year, it happened,” Tomori added. “Raheem (Sterling) took that opportunity to score a goal and to kind of show them that it doesn’t really matter.
“As I said, the meeting we had yesterday, we know what we need to do if it happens.
“The officials are aware, the UEFA delegates are aware of what’s going on, so all we can do is play football. That’s all well can do.
“Then whatever happens in the stands or behind the scenes, we just let that be dealt with. We’re just here to play football.”
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