Fans are Tired: Why Bulgarians Protested against the Leadership of the Football Union

Sports | November 17, 2023, Friday // 09:10|  views

Exactly 20 years ago, in October 2003, Bulgaria visited Croatia in a match that they lost by a minimum of 1:0. After earlier defeating Croatia and Belgium, the national team secured participation in the European Championship, taking first place in the group. Today, the national football team is in last place in the qualifying group and without a chance to qualify for the championship.

Intolerance towards the failures of Bulgarian football started to grow more and more - on November 16, a protest was organized against the management of the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU).

Read more about what happened at the protest here.

For 18 years it has been monopolized by Borislav Mihailov, and since then the quality of the national team and the clubs has plummeted, and the national team has not qualified for a single major championship.

Ten days before the qualifier against Hungary, BFU announced that UEFA is moving the match from Sofia to PFC Botev's stadium in Plovdiv, where the match was supposed to be played behind closed doors. The argument of the European football organization was "information received by the Bulgarian authorities related to an increased risk of disruption of public order in and around the stadium".

Fear of the protest can also be read behind the euphemistic announcement of the BFU. On Wednesday, there was also a message from the builder of the Plovdiv stadium that he was unable to accept the match, as it was inadvisable due to the construction and installation activities. There were speculations about other stadiums including the ones in Razgrad and Kardjali.

In the end, the match was returned to the capital - Sofia. However, the stipulation for it to be without Bulgarian fans remained.

"The situation is very serious and it is because of the leaders of Bulgarian football. With their methods, they want to steal football from the fans. People are uniting against them, which makes me very happy. They are stealing football from all of us. This has never happened - you to play of your own accord in front of an empty stadium," former national team player Dimitar Berbatov and main opponent of Mihailov at the last congress, when he lost to him by just 11 votes and was rejected for a runoff, told bTV.

The fans' disappointment is understandable. In two years, the national team recorded two victories, and the condition city stadiums is falling more and more. However, the problems are more complex and go further back in time. For two decades, Bulgaria did not find a way to a European or world championship. On the other hand, North Macedonia made its debut, and Croatia reached the final and semi-finals in a row. Because of the problems in the Bulgarian football union, already in 2019, the state stopped funding the sport.

The Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) is a private organization that is financed with revenues from TV rights, licenses, ticket sales, and international organizations.

Since October 2005, the executive director of the Bulgarian Football Union, who is responsible for the development of the sport, is Borislav Mihailov.

During that time, the national team changed more than a dozen coaches (15), and the team dropped over 40 places in the FIFA rankings to 86th place.

In 2019, Mihailov resigned, which he later withdrew after seeing a threat: three former footballers, part of the squad in 2004 - Stiliyan Petrov, Martin Petrov and Dimitar Berbatov, united and wanted a change. With the signatures of a third of the clubs, the three demanded that the Sofia City Court appoint an extraordinary congress. In October 2021, the clubs re-elected Borislav Mihailov for a new 4-year term.

From 2017 to 2022, the income of the BFU from non-profit activities reached BGN 108 million, while the expenses are about BGN 103 million. The biggest item in the report is "other" administrative expenses, where more than BGN 37 million go in five years. For reference, the total expenses for the men's and women's national teams for the period are BGN 15 million. Donations alone (with and without condition) are over 75 million, mainly coming from FIFA and UEFA.

The role of the BFU is important even for those who do not watch football. Clubs such as "Heber", "Pirin", "Botev" - Vratsa are financed from the municipal budgets. The return on municipal investment depends to some extent on the football union. The organization prepares the tender for television rights, determines the championship program (which affects attendance) and orders the requirements for the conduct of matches, which affects costs.

In 2020, the BFУ announced that the matches of the championship will be on the channels of "Nova Broadcasting Group" for the next five years. According to the conditions, every year the television pays BGN 6.5 million without VAT. "Revenues from television rights for the clubs have already increased significantly," says Borislav Mihailov in a written interview with "Capital". "Next year they will rise to 6.8 million, then every year after that they will rise - 7 million in 2025-2026, 7.7 million in 2026-2027, 7.95 million in 2027-2028, and 8.2 million in 2028- 2029", adds the president of the BFU. This means that the contract will also be extended. The amounts for the Bulgarian Cup and the Second League are also increasing: from BGN 625,000 to BGN 820,000 for the cup and from BGN 2,200 to BGN 2,900 per match.

However, according to "Capital" sources, such a decision can be attacked in court, since decisions affecting third parties are made by the Executive Committee, which is entered in the Commercial Register, and its mandate has expired.

However, for comparison - in May, the clubs in Romania agreed on 36 million euros per year including VAT for three seasons. In Greece, the matches are broadcast on two televisions, which negotiate directly with the clubs for their rights. Revenues reach 68 million euros per season.

One of the reasons for the lower offer in Bulgaria is the lower competition. In 2020, the Bulgarian National Television offered a symbolic amount, and the only real competitor - Max Sport, the channels of "A1", offered a lower offer. According to Petar Velichkov, part of Dimitar Berbatov's team, the state (through BNT) can participate in the bidding. "For a long time, however, the state with this leadership (of the BFU) does not want to work.".

Often, matches from the Bulgarian championship are scheduled during working hours on weekdays. Thus, filling the stadium is more difficult. The teenagers are at school and the rest are at work. "The program of the championship is drawn up together with the television, so that absolutely all matches of the elite can be broadcast directly", Mihailov points out.

In order to televise matches, however, there are requirements. Clubs must commit to base investments such as lighting and pitch maintenance. Usually, these costs are not that high, but given the financial difficulties of the municipalities, even a small additional cost can be a problem. "When a club wants to receive solid money from television rights, it must invest in infrastructure improvements," says Mihailov.

However, the union is looking to keep costs down for clubs by funding the VAR system with money from its own budget and providing consumables such as balls, kits and more to clubs at all levels.

In four years, the transfers of Bulgarian football players generated 20 million euros for the Bulgarian teams, according to Transfermarkt data. For comparison, the revenue from sales of Croatian clubs for the summer of 2023 alone exceeds 50 million euros. The amount does not include the deal between the German RB Leipzig and the English Manchester City for the Croatian international Josko Gvardiol for 90 million euros. "At the moment, a Bulgarian with a Bulgarian passport and certain qualities, if sold for 300 thousand euros, the same player with the same qualities and a Croatian passport will cost 3 million," says Velichkov, who in the past was part of the BFU executive committee. "For 10 years, we have one Despodov. And how much did they sell him for - for 3 and a half million. A Croatian with the same qualities will sell him for 15 million minimum," he adds.

Naturally, if Bulgarian footballers are not wanted in Bulgaria, they cannot be expected to be wanted abroad. According to data from the International Center for Sports Studies, the Bulgarian teams are in the top 10 of the European championships, which give the most minutes to foreigners (more than 50% of the time). At the same time, football players from schools get four times less playing time.

"I am tired of repeating that, unlike Serbia, for example, Bulgaria is a member of the European Union and specific labor rules apply here," Mihailov points out. "There is a specific quota imposed for players from outside the European Union, as it is everywhere, but this does not mean that clubs cannot fill the balance with players with European passports, regardless of their nationality," says the former footballer.

However, according to Velichkov, the exact opposite is happening: "It's complete madness with these passports," he says and adds that foreigners who have recently arrived in the country receive the documents with the assistance of the Bulgarian Football Union. "They write how important foreigners are for Bulgarian football. These things go to the presidency and from there players with one year in Bulgaria receive European passports," explains the specialist.

According to "Capital" sources, the BFU is considering the introduction of an incentive for the clubs that use Bulgarian players, but at this stage sponsors and financing are being sought. A similar scheme has been imposed in Hungary.

On October 25, the Minister of Finance Asen Vasilev announced a program for the renovation of stadiums at a meeting with the clubs in the ministry. Under the program, clubs can apply for funding to upgrade sports facilities. The condition is at least 50% co-payment. For this year, the allocated funds are BGN 10 million, and the amount may increase to BGN 50 million. The deadline for applications is until the end of November, and municipalities may also apply. "In 2021, we allocated BGN 500 million for municipal projects, and next year's budget we have allocated BGN 1 billion for municipal projects. Thus, if the municipality considers that it needs a stadium, it can apply," the Finance Minister pointed out. "Next year we may start with a budget of BGN 50-100 million, and if there is interest, we will find enough funds."

The meeting was attended by representatives of football, basketball and volleyball clubs, as well as personalities such as Dimitar Berbatov, Mihail Alexandrov and Valentin Mihov. "This meeting was not organized for federations, but for clubs", explains the absence of BFU Borislav Mihailov. But as we indicated above, the reason is most likely in the reluctance of the state to work with the BFU.

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Tags: mihailov, football, BFU, Bulgaria


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