FIFA punishes Bulgaria, Hungary for racial abuse

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ZURICH (AP) -- FIFA fined Bulgaria and Hungary around $40,000 each on Tuesday and ordered them to play a World Cup qualifier in an empty stadium after fans aimed racist and anti-Semitic abuse at opposing teams.

The punishments were announced as players and anti-discrimination groups demand a tougher response to fan actions at stadiums, including in Italy and Serbia.

"FIFA strongly condemns all forms of racism in football, and any form of discrimination will not be tolerated and will receive a strong response by the relevant FIFA authorities," world football's governing body said in a statement.

FIFA fined Bulgaria $38,000 and Hungary $43,400.

Bulgaria fans made monkey chants at Denmark defender Patrick Mtiliga, who is black, during a World Cup qualifier in Sofia on Oct. 12. Bulgaria, which is in the same group as Italy, will play in an empty stadium on March 22 when it hosts Malta.

Hungary fans directed anti-Semitic slogans and reportedly displayed Iran flags to insult Israel at an Aug. 15 exhibition in Budapest. Hungary's punishment applies when neighboring Romania visits on March 22.

FIFA was helped by the European fans' network FARE, which sends anti-discrimination monitors to high-risk matches.

However, FIFA declined to take World Cup qualifying points from either team as its disciplinary code allows. It could have hampered the teams' chances of advancing to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Bulgaria and Hungary are in second place in their respective groups, which would be enough to earn a place in the European playoffs in November.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter said last week that "sanctions must be a deduction of points or something similar" to uphold the governing body's zero-tolerance stance on racism and discrimination.

Blatter spoke out during the weekend after AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng led teammates to protest at racial abuse by opposing fans by walking off the field with teammates in an exhibition against fourth-tier Italian club Pro Patria last Friday. The game did not resume.

At the FIFA player of the year awards on Monday, Blatter said Boateng was "strong and courageous" but that players leaving the field "cannot be the solution in the long term."

Soccer union leader Theo van Seggelen says he's proud of the recent player protest, but agrees with Blatter that leaving the field is not the answer. FIFPro general secretary Van Seggelen told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Boateng chose "the right moment" to lead off his AC Milan teammates.

The Dutch official acknowledges that "when it is the Champions League final, the circumstances are different." Van Seggelen says "we have regulations for that. The referee is the only one who can stop the game."