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Chaos in Bulgarian Football as Mihaylov-Berbatov Clash Intensifies

Bulgarian football reached its zenith in the summer of 1994, when the country’s national team made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup, but it has been steadily declining ever since. In recent months, Bulgarian football is entangled in the bilateral quarrels between Borislav Mihaylov, the incumbent President of the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU), and Dimitar Berbatov, Mihaylov’s main opponent for the position. Throughout its course, the presidential race is marked by chaotic events, constant mutual allegations of violations of the BFU rules, and court cases which seem to be endless. Mihaylov has been the head of the BFU since 2005 and has no intention to withdraw, led by the belief that he pushes the sport ahead, while Berbatov claims to be the herald of the change to bring the glorious football days of old.
On March 1, the BFU, headed by Mihaylov, cancelled its regular congress scheduled for March 18, which was initially planned as a BFU presidential election congress. The decision was contradictory as it was the BFU who voted for holding such congress in the first place in September 2021, ignoring a Sofia City Court ruling that an extraordinary presidential election congress must be held earlier. An extraordinary congress was indeed held on October 12, 2021, and Mihaylov was re-elected president of the BFU, controversially defeating Berbatov by a narrow margin-of-victory.
The BFU said it cancelled the congress on March 18 due to the ongoing judicial proceedings following the October 2021 events, since Berbatov lodged an appeal and took a case to court, being convinced that the vote was manipulated. The Union representatives added that these ongoing legal cases are the only reason for which the President Mihaylov and the BFU Executive committee, elected in October 2021, have not yet entered the Commercial Register and the Register of Non-profit Legal Entities to take up their duties. However, officially, Mihaylov remains BFU President as registered in 2018, carrying out his mandate of four years.
Mihaylov resigned temporarily in the autumn of 2019 amidst a scandal over racism during a Bulgaria-England match in 2019 after which then Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said that his government did not want to work with him. In April 2021, Mihaylov withdrew his resignation and resumed his functions to prepare the Union for the cancelled regular congress in 2022.
On March 18, despite the cancellation, presidential candidate Dimitar Berbatov and his team held an alternative election congress and Berbatov was elected president of the BFU with 76 votes for and none against. Berbatov claimed that he is elected legitimately and in compliance with all BFU rules. BFU’s management, headed by Mihaylov, did not recognize it.
Mihaylov took instant countermeasures and the BFU penalized 106 football clubs on March 23. A total of 104 amateur clubs were expelled from the BFU structure due to their „unregulated” participation in Berbatov’s alternative congress, among other violations, while professional CSKA (Sofia) and Yantra (Gabrovo) were fined.
Following these events, FIFA and UEFA raised questions to the Bulgarian Youth and Sports Ministry. The international governing bodies stated that they are deeply concerned about the ongoing events in Bulgarian football, including their potential effect on the participation of Bulgarian football clubs and national teams in international competitions. FIFA and UEFA also insisted on being informed about all future developments of the situation.
Consequently, Sports Minister Radostin Vasilev answered FIFA and UEFA, providing them the information they requested, his Ministry said, giving no further details on the topic.
On March 25, Berbatov and his team said that they had alerted FIFA for the penalties imposed on those 104 clubs by the BFU, claiming that such actions are illegal. On March 18, a new, legitimate BFU management was elected and it is the only governing body entitled to penalize football clubs, they argued. The decisions made by Mihaylov and BFU Executive Committee are null and void, Berbatov claimed.
The Bulgarian football community expects the courts’ decisions so that the stalemate in which the BFU is currently mired, can finally be overcome.