It all happened faster than you can say Hoodie. First, the Interior Ministry announced that it had arrested 14 people that had been sought for acts of hooliganism at sports events. Within a few hours, Sofia Regional Court announced the penalties that had been handed down to them.
Even though the operation had taken some time, the message was clear – after repeated promises and threats, the authorities were keen on sending a clear message about enforcing Bulgaria’s laws against hooliganism at sports events.
Those who found themselves fast-tracked from arrest to conviction and penalties ranged from a 15-year-old boy to a 31-year-old woman. The police operation, which started in the cold dawn, covered people wanted for offences at football matches in autumn 2011. The woman, the Interior Ministry said, had a police record for hooliganism. Like the others, she had been identified after police spent a month and a half closely scrutinising video recordings, photographs and interviewing witnesses.
She was wanted for throwing fireworks at officials at the most recent "eternal derby" between strongman clubs CSKA and Levski. Seven of those arrested, including the 15-year-old boy and six men ranging in age from 18 to 25, were wanted for acts of violence and, in the words of the Interior Ministry statement, "using dangerous pyrotechnic and explosive devices" at Sofia’s Vassil Levski National Stadium. Four of them had previous records for hooliganism, police said.
Three other Sofia men, aged 21, 22 and 25, were arrested for causing and taking part in mass brawl at the Levski – CSKA match. The 25-year-old had a record for vandalism, hooliganism at sports matches and illegal drug possession. The 21-year-old had a previous conviction for assault. All three previously had been banned from attending sports events. Two juveniles were arrested for prohibited use of fireworks and for throwing parts of seats at a CSKA – Ludogorets match.
While the over-18s were referred to court, one of the minors was immediately referred to the commission to combat delinquency among minors, the Interior Ministry said. Police said that they were continuing to work on identifying other sports hooligans. They said that specially-designated officers would be checking for those subject to bans who attempted to enter matches. Breaking such a ban could mean jail from one to three years, the ministry said.
The penalties handed down by the Sofia court ranged from jail for five and six days, respectively, for two offenders. One was fined 800 leva and banned from sports events in Bulgaria and abroad for 18 months. Three were fined 500 leva each. One was given a two-year sports events ban and another a year-long ban. One was fined 300 leva and banned for a year. The other four, the woman included, were fined 200 leva each and one was given a year-long ban. The court said that two trials were postponed, one for further evidence, the other to allow the accused to retain counsel.
Co-operation and synergy between the police, sports organisations, regulatory agencies and the community in general is vital if we want to prevent sport from losing its true meaning and value, Ronald Noble said.
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