Row over Bulgarian football official’s ‘no different skin colour in the national team’ remark

Controversy has ensued after Bulgarian Football Union technical director Georgi “Gonzo” Ivanov was quoted as saying that as long as he held that post “a foreign player, with a foreign passport, with a different skin colour will not play in the Bulgarian national team”.

Bulgarian National Radio reported on January 24 that Ivanov, formerly a top Bulgarian football star before entering management, had said that only Bulgarians should play in the Bulgarian national team.

“I don’t want footballers from other countries to replace the Bulgarian ones. In some countries, this can happen, but for me it’s a vicious practice,” he was quoted as saying.

Reacting, former national team captain Stiliyan Petrov said: “I am truly shocked and saddened by the words of the technical director of our football federation, which I condemn in the strongest possible terms.

“That someone could believe such things is completely wrong, but a senior leader of an organization with such responsibility and influence to thinks such discriminatory speech is acceptable is just the height of absurdity. It reflects the rotten and ignorant culture that exists among our football leaders today. Football should be for everyone,” Petrov said.

Levski Sofia PFC, the team Ivanov played for from 1997 to 2002 and again in 2006 and 2008-09, issued a statement on its official website distancing itself and condemning his statement.

“Levski PFC does not accept racism and discrimination in any form,” he said.

Ivanov said in a statement issued via Bulgarian news agency BTA that his words had been taken out of context.

“It is definitely not a matter of racial or ethnic discrimination,” he said.

“My principled position is clear – footballers of Bulgarian origin and Bulgarian self-awareness should play in the Bulgarian national team, regardless of whether they were born in the country or not. I stand by my words that my desire is to watch Bulgaria with Bulgarian players and I believe that the football public will agree with that,” Ivanov said.

“I am aware that my line can be interpreted in all sorts of ways, especially when it is taken out of context, but for me it is important to distinguish between club and national teams. While in club you can transfer players from all over the world – something, which I also did as a director, in the nationals it is about a cause that cannot be bought or faked,” he said.

Ivanov said that the doors of the national team are open to Bulgarian players who grew up abroad.

“There are also quite a few players who have Bulgarian roots, and whom we are watching. They are all welcome because they are aware of what Bulgaria means, and I am convinced that the Bulgarian public will accept them. So it is definitely not a question of racial or ethnic distinction, but for boys who understand the value of the national shirt”.

(Photo: Biso, via Wikimedia Commons)

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