Hungarian football needs to learn from history

NOBODY SHOULD be too surprised by the behaviour of some Hungary fans in Budapest, it has been experienced before and the country has a right-wing, very nationalist government that has been in office for 11 years. The ingredients are there for problems.

It is incredible that, in the 21st century, people are defending the actions of some supporters, claiming England are merely making political propaganda out of a sports event. If the Hungarians are happy to see their country portrayed as being totally out of step with modern thinking, then so be it, but their international image will continue to be tarnished while they tolerate racism and bigotry.

England were jeered for taking the knee, a gesture that may have run its course in some respects, but it would be more appropriate to have stopped the game and taken the knee, or even demonstrated after the game to show the Hungarian fans that England had not been phased by the torrent of abuse and debris thrown their way.

It’s a great shame that in a stadium that bears the name of one of the most loved players in world football, Ferenc Puskas, should play host to such unacceptable behaviour. Budapest is a great city and Hungary has a rich footballing heritage, but somehow, the problems that once existed throughout Europe manage to linger on. That’s not to say England, for example, do not have similar problems, because we all know that racism remains in the game – hence the gesture being made by players over the past year or so.

When the pandemic prevented fans from attending games, the belief that football without the fans is a much diluted product seemed a very true assessment of the situation. But in truth, where you have large crowds, you have a diverse range of emotions and beliefs. For every good aspect of spectator sport, there are unpleasant and anti-social elements. In other words, nobody should be fooled into thinking that football crowds are sedate, all-loving vast bodies of people because they are not. The bigger the crowd, the more likely you will hear things you don’t particularly want to hear.

FIFA should punish Hungary for the behaviour of their fans, but this will not make the problem go away. You have to ask yourself why do they do this, why do they jeer black footballers? Hungary itself has suffered from bigotry, racism and anti-semitism in the past – some 500,000 Hungarian Jews died during the second world war. The Hungarian government should do something, but given their political philosophy, is that going to happen?

During Euro 2020, Hungarian fans wore black shirts as they protested about players taking the knee and there were also homophobic banners in the Puskas Arena. Hungary were ordered to play two games behind closed doors as a punishment. Hungary’s foreign minister called UEFA’s decision “pitiful and cowardly”.

While punishments from UEFA and FIFA seem to be quite toothless, perhaps it is time for countries to boycott or introduce sanctions against countries that are unwelcoming to their teams and fans. Banning countries from the World Cup and European Championship, as well as club competitions, would be far more effective. It is 2021, after all. History should have taught us something.

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