Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has said Ireland players “provoked” fans in Budapest with a kneeling gesture that “started in slave-owning countries” – but visiting boss Stephen Kenny branded the booing “incomprehensible”.
There was yet more controversy over the taking of the knee by players on Tuesday night at the Ferenc Szusza Stadium, where the Hungary team remained on their feet while their opponents made the gesture to support the Black Lives Matter campaign, receiving boos and jeers from some of the crowd.
Days after a political row broke out after a similar response to England taking the knee, leader Orban, who was once a professional player and is known for his love of the game, explained why he sympathized with the supporters who booed and understood their reasons for taking their stance.
“If we look at how this emerged, we see it started in slave-owning countries. For those countries who weren’t, we cannot help,” the long-serving premier argued.
The Republic of Ireland's players were booed and jeered by some Hungary fans as they took a knee before kick-off in their friendly in Budapest. pic.twitter.com/15npHfKZcE
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) June 8, 2021
While many fans were showing disrespect, Hungary’s team captain Ádám Szalai and other Hungarian players appeared to be pointing at the “respect” badge on their jerseys, showing solidarity with their opponents. pic.twitter.com/0ANtSbfI3E
— Anahita (آناهیتا) Asgharzadeh 🇮🇷🇮🇪 (@AnahitaTchr) June 9, 2021
“It doesn’t help to bring that moral historical burden onto a football pitch. It doesn’t liberate them from it; they have to deal with it at home.
“If you are a guest in a country, then understand its culture. Don’t provoke the locals, don’t provoke the host if you visit as a guest.
“We can’t interpret this gesture in any other way. Looked at from our culture, it’s an incomprehensible thing, a provocation.
“The fans reacted as fans generally do if provoked. They don’t always choose the most elegant way to do it, but you have to understand the cause.”
The Hungarian Football Federation has announced that the team will not take the knee at the tournament, which begins on Friday, as part of its vision that the “core values of the sport are equal opportunities, respect for teammates and the opponent.”
So Hungarian fans behaving the same dispicable way as the England fans did at Wembley, the only difference being England fans booed their own players for taking the knee!
— FPLtickle (@FpLtickle) June 9, 2021
Euro 2020 is going to be fun!
— Andrew King (@AndrewKing1990) June 8, 2021
“Football became the most popular sport in the world because it belongs to everyone,” it said in a statement, adding that its longstanding anti-racism campaign adheres to UEFA and FIFA rulres which it said did not allow any kind politics on the pitch or in stadiums.
“The Hungarian national team not only follows international rules and norms in all cases, but also pays respect to everyone – be it an opponent, a fan or anyone else.”
High-profile figures across football have continued to fervently insist in recent days that the gesture is purely designed to oppose racism, with the likes of England manager Gareth Southgate, Champions League winner Rio Ferdinand and a broad range of pundits lengthily endorsing the concept.
“The fact it was booed is incomprehensible, really,” said Ireland manager Stephen Kenny, whose side provided the final warm-up opposition ahead of Hungary’s Euro 2020 campaign in a 0-0 draw.
“It must be damaging for Hungary, with the Euros [partly taking place] in Hungary.
Didn’t know Ireland was a colonial slave trading power
— B (@brianymoran) June 9, 2021
The introduction of political gestures such as this has caused so much division in football. Stop it now and just concentrate on entertaining (not dividing) the fans who pay their wages!
— Denis Mccarroll (@denboy372) June 9, 2021
“It’s disappointing and it doesn’t reflect well on Hungary really, on Hungarian support. It doesn’t reflect well.
“Our players wanted to do it. It’s important. It’s an important stance and I commend them for taking that stance.
“I think it was the right decision. I approached [the Football Association of Ireland’s international operations manager] Barry Gleeson and said it was something we wanted to do, take the knee – and I think it’s a very important message.”
Ireland forward Adam Idah, of Premier League club Norwich, said he had found it “disappointing” that the “whole stadium” had booed.
“It’s for a good cause, trying to stop racism,” he added. “It’s a sign to kick racism out of society and the reaction was very disappointing, to be honest. We weren’t expecting that.”
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