Soccer’s governing body ruled that Bulgaria and Hungary must play their next qualifying matches without spectators after both team’s supporters were determined to have behaved reprehensibly.
BERN – Bulgaria and Hungary were ordered to play their next home World Cup qualifiers behind closed doors after their fans were found guilty of racist and anti-Semitic behavior in recent games, FIFA said Tuesday.
Bulgaria was sanctioned after a group of supporters racially abused Denmark's substitute Patrick Mtiliga every time he touched the ball after entering the field in the second half of their 2014 World Cup qualifier in Sofia in October.
Hungary’s punishment followed anti-Semitic chanting by fans in a friendly at home against Israel in August.
In both cases, FIFA's disciplinary committee warned that a repetition could lead to harsher penalties, including a possible points deduction, the forfeiting of the match or even disqualification from the competition.
In an unusually strongly worded statement, FIFA described the incidents in Sofia as "offensive, denigratory and discriminatory," while the incidents in Budapest were labeled "abhorrent."
The sanctions came as FIFA's European counterpart UEFA is accused of being too lenient on cases of racism, letting offending clubs off with fines.
Porto, Lazio and Serbia have each been given fines over recent racism cases by European soccer's disciplinary committee, although UEFA itself has appealed the Serbia decision, related to an under-21 match at home to England, and asked for stronger sanctions.
Bulgaria, whose next home game in Group B is against Malta in March, was also fined roughly $38,000. Hungary, which hosts Romania also in March in Group D, was fined more than $43,000.
Hungary’s match is potentially decisive, as the two sides are even in second place with nine points, three behind clear leader and favorite the Netherlands.
FIFA said that during the Bulgaria match, also marred by a firework-throwing incident in the seventh minute, fans were warned by the stadium announcer about their behavior in the 73rd minute.
"Although the level of abuse subsided, audible racist abuse still continued until the final whistle," said FIFA.
"The disciplinary committee agreed that the offensive, denigratory and discriminatory actions of a small group of Bulgarian supporters, was shameful and a clear breach of the FIFA Disciplinary Code.
"In addition, the incendiary devices thrown, which can pose considerable threats to personal safety, are also not tolerated."
FIFA said that in Hungary’s case, it had been informed by the Football Against Racism Europe group that some supporters had made anti-Semitic chants and displayed offensive symbols.
"The members of the FIFA disciplinary committee were unanimous in condemning an abhorrent episode of racism, anti-Semitism and of political provocative and aggressive nature perpetrated by supporters of the Hungarian national team," said FIFA.
It added that the Hungarian federation had acknowledged and regretted the fans' behavior.
Last week, AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, who played for Ghana at the 2010 World Cup, took his shirt off and walked off the pitch after being racially insulted in a preseason friendly against a lower tier side. His teammates followed him and the match was abandoned.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter described Boateng's behaviour as courageous on Monday, although he said such gestures were not the long-term solution to racism.
Reporting by Brian Homewood.