'We can't look at them as an alien race' - Chelsea's Anita Asante responds to the Bulgarian racism disgrace

Chelsea's Anita Asante had plenty to say on events in Bulgaria last night (PA Images)
21:52pm, Tue 15 Oct 2019
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Chelsea's Anita Asante has implored English football not to treat Bulgarians as an 'alien race' following the racist abuse a number of players were subjected to in their Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia.

After the match - which England won 6-0 - the President of the Bulgarian Football Union, Borislav Mihaylov, resigned at the request of the Prime Minister.

Yet while Asante is outraged by the 'visceral' racism which was on display, she is measured when looking at it from an English point of view.

"I think it's important that we don't try to take this moral high ground," she said. "We obviously have issues of racism and anti-semitism in this country as well.

"It's important that we don't look at other nations as some kind of alien race. They obviously have their own challenges historically and culturally.

"The fact that it was such an overt display of that behaviour, in some ways, is going to force action because it was so visible and prevalent. People will be like 'oh my god racism, it actually does exist, we have to tackle it, face it head on.

"The fact that we think in the UK it isn't as big of a problem or it's slightly more subtle sometimes might reduce people into doing less than they should."

The 34-year-old Chelsea defender has been outspoken against racism in football for much of her career and spoke exclusively to NewsChain last month about the issues the sport faced when it came to racial discrimination.

And although many have called for severe action to be taken against Bulgaria - such as points deductions or expulsion from qualification - the former England international appreciates what the reaction would be if the shoe was on the other foot.

"It might require them being removed from the competition, deduction of points, behind closed doors, those types of things to try and create that significant shift in the behaviour of those supporters," she added.

Anita Asante playing for Chelsea last season (PA Images)

"But one of the reasons why I think UEFA have been quite reluctant to do those things and actually enforce those harsh sanctions is because arguably you could say if that happened in England - for example in the Premier League or in another national team game - would they enforce the same thing here? Or would we also challenge it?

"Yeah, in terms of football we are a stronger nation than Bulgaria - they're not even going to qualify - but on the flip side if that happened would we suddenly say 'we don't want the team in the competition'? I think it's a lot more complex than that."

Asante is reluctant to commit to whether she would have walked off the pitch or not because, as she says, 'a lot of emotional things come into play'.

She also cites the case of  Sulley Muntari, who left the field of play after he was booked by the referee when he complained of racial chants from the crowd, as an example of why players do not want to take that sort of extreme action (Pescara’s Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari abandoned the pitch in 2017, saying he had been booked for complaining about racist chanting from the crowd during his team’s 1-0 defeat at Cagliari).

What she is more interested in is highlighting why the onus is on the individual receiving the discrimination to do something.

"It shouldn't always take the victim to say something, in the same way I don't think Tyrone Mings had to say to the official 'can you hear that?' - of course he can hear that.

"I understand they want to try out this process, but we're not in a school playground - three strikes and you're out. Bad behaviour is bad behaviour. To what degree do we think it's OK to tolerate it?"

Asante believes the issue in football is the product of a wider societal issue, with the rise of racism in football rearing its head as a symptom of the rise in far right-wing political beliefs.

"When you see it so visibly in that way it makes you think how many more people across Europe in particular are going to feel slightly more confident to behave that way," she said.

"I think it's no coincidence that politically throughout Europe we've seen a rising trend in the right. I think that (the racism) is just another example that those attitudes are still there and potentially rising which is a scary thought."