SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor launched an investigation Friday into the country’s soccer management, with the focus on the actions of federation president Borislav Mihaylov.
The move follows the mass protests that gripped Bulgaria’s capital on Thursday as several thousand soccer fans took to the streets to demand the resignation of Mihaylov. Their fury was fueled by the federation’s decision to play a European Championship qualifying match against Hungary in an empty stadium.
In the protests that eventually turned violent, dozens of fans and policemen were injured, some of them seriously. Police detained nearly 40 people.
The Bulgarian national team hasn’t qualified for a major tournament in nearly two decades. After the latest two losses to Albania and Lithuania in October, fans called for a nationwide protest, blaming the federation’s leaders for the poor results and calling for their resignations.
In previous weeks, soccer fans had been shouting “Resign!” in the 18th minute of every league match, addressing the Mihaylov and his aides, who have been at the helm of the federation for 18 years.
The prosecutor’s probe comes after numerous media reports alleging a range of violations and potential criminal activities, including the misappropriation of public funds and involvement in illicit betting schemes.
Mihaylov, the goalkeeper on the Bulgaria team that reached the 1994 World Cup semifinals, was first elected in 2005 to lead the national soccer federation. The men’s national team has declined under his leadership and has not qualified for a major tournament since Euro 2004.
Mihaylov was out of office for 18 months after he resigned in 2019 under pressure from the government. He left one day after Bulgaria fans made Nazi salutes and targeted England’s Black players with racial abuse during a Euro 2020 qualifying game in Sofia.
Mihaylov returned to counter a leadership campaign by Dimitar Berbatov, the popular former Manchester United forward. That led to disputed elections and court cases.
Berbatov condemned the violence during Thursday’s protests, saying “any kind of aggression during protests only provokes more aggression.”
“People were ready to protest at the stadium as a regular audience, but after that right was taken away from them, emotions were bound to escalate,” Berbatov told the bTV channel on Friday.
From 2011-19, Mihaylov was a member of the UEFA executive committee, the body that runs European soccer. Weeks before he won the UEFA election for a seat on the ruling body, the Bulgarian team was involved in an international friendly game against Estonia in Turkey that was part of a notable match-fixing investigation.
Bulgaria’s 2-2 draw with Estonia, in which all four goals were scored from penalty kicks, was linked to betting scams by a Singapore crime syndicate that had fixed games worldwide.
That game, which took place nearly 13 years ago, is part of the ongoing investigation revealed Friday, Bulgarian media reported.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.
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