Last weekend, CSKA Sofia was at home to take on rivals Lokomotiv Sofia in Bulgaria’s biggest derby. CSKA, who had not scored a single goal in its prior six games, suffered another shutout, this time losing 1-0.
Before the game, members of Sector G, a CSKA ultra group, voiced their displeasure with a tifo that said, “Let us play this game.” The tifo featured a hooded man controlling a foosball table with CSKA players in place of the usual figurines. A Nazi flag was also on display, visible through the assorted banners and pyro smoke.
After the match, Sector G decided that tifo wasn’t enough to get its point across. The group called players over to their section, telling them they were undeserving of wearing the club’s shirt. Fans broke through stadium fences and police barriers to physically confront CSKA players, stripping some of them of their club colors. Police eventually intervened and escorted the players to the locker room.
In the midst of the altercations, CSKA’s Portuguese winger Toni Silva was reportedly called a monkey by his own fans. On Monday, Silva issued a public statement in response to the incident. He didn’t condemn Sector G. He didn’t call for a change in Bulgarian soccer culture. Instead, he rationalized the fans’ behavior.
“I love CSKA and its fans. What happened after the match with Lokomotiv Sofia was not pleasant. But nevertheless I can understand the emotion of our fans. I’m disappointed and I’m not happy with the loss, but this is football. What happened between me and some supporters was not racist and there are no serious arguments to be called that way. I will forgive those fans who screaming at me and insulted me”
This is fucking ridiculous.
Considering we now live in a world where players in Russia are suspended for giving racists the finger, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Silva is offering to chalk up Sector G’s behavior to sports emotions. Yet even if the alleged monkey chants from CSKA fans are nothing more than hearsay, it’s gross that Silva would allow them an excuse for what we know as fact and can see clearly in the video.
Even scarier is the idea, as Inside World Football suggests, that Silva was somehow forced into delivering the conciliatory message to save CSKA from facing punishment from the Bulgarian Football Union.
Silva isn’t the first player to make a statement like this. CSKA Moscow’s Nigerian striker Ahmed Musa once called the punishment the club received for its fans’ blatantly racist and fascist behavior “unfair.” At the time, one could only speculate as to what had infected his thought process, making him opt to be a “team player” and look out for his club, rather than confront a larger poisonous culture that is so deeply embedded in the Russian game.
Silva’s situation is similarly confusing. What we know for certain about Sunday is disturbing enough. The idea, however, that CSKA Sofia officials ordered him to publicly say the incident was no big deal takes the depth of the rot within the system to levels that are uncomfortable to even imagine — mainly because the scenario is completely believable. It doesn’t take any creativity to envision the case for CSKA officials choosing club finances or the will of the ultras over players’ well-being. Ultimately, it’s telling that the only voice we hear belongs to Silva, while his club has remained silent about the obvious physical assault against its players, and everything else for that matter.
Racist or not, CSKA fans went miles beyond “the line,” but it appears that their club will help them walk away unpunished. Bravo, CSKA.