Hungary's Foreign Minister has responded to the racist abuse directed at England's Black footballers by his country's fans – not by condemning their actions, but by turning a blind eye to the racism altogether.
England beat Hungary 4-0 in a World Cup qualifying match in Budapest on Thursday night, but the game was overshadowed by racist abuse from Hungarian fans – including monkey chants – targeting England players Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham, who are Black.
The incident drew condemnation from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and England captain Harry Kane, while FIFA, football’s governing body, emphasised its “zero-tolerance” towards racism and vowed to take action as soon as it had received match reports.
“It is completely unacceptable that England players were racially abused in Hungary last night. I urge FIFA to take strong action against those responsible to ensure that this kind of disgraceful behaviour is eradicated from the game for good,” Johnson tweeted on Friday. Johnson, who has used racist language in the past himself, previously refused to condemn fans booing England players taking the knee.
But rather than condemn the minority of his country’s fans for their racist abuse, Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Szijjarto, instead shot back at England fans for disrespecting their opponent’s national anthem in a previous game – completely overlooking the issue of racial vilification at the heart of the dispute.
On Friday, Szijjarto posted footage to his official Facebook page of England fans loudly booing Italy’s national anthem before the Euro 2020 final at Wembley in July, and wrote: “England players are complaining about last night’s ‘hostile atmosphere in Budapest.’ ... You can barely hear the Italian anthem over the whistling England supporters. Did they make similar comments back then???”
Szijjarto did not respond to a VICE World News request to elaborate on his comments, and address whether he was turning a blind eye to racism. The press office for Hungary’s right-wing government – whose leader, Viktor Orbán, has been criticised for failing to condemn racism in the game, and is known for his nationalist, anti-migrant agenda more generally – declined to comment, referring inquiries instead to the Hungarian Football Federation.
The federation said in a statement that those who disrupted the match "need to be identified and severely punished", but did not make any specific reference to racist abuse.
The fact that the fans were even in the stadium to be able to abuse the players has exasperated campaign groups dedicated to stamping out racism in football. UEFA, the game’s governing body in Europe, had ordered Hungary to play three home games without fans in the stadium in response to incidents during the Euro 2020 tournament earlier this year, in which fans held homophobic banners and made monkey noises during group-stage matches in Budapest and Munich.
The ban wasn’t imposed for Thursday night’s match as the game came under FIFA's jurisdiction.
Tony Burnett, the chief executive of Kick It Out, called the racist abuse “preventable and predictable,” and castigated the game’s administrators for failing to act in a concerted way to tackle the problem.
“The question for us is why FIFA didn't act to prevent this, and why the global football system didn't work together to prevent this," he told the PA news agency.
"All I'm hearing again thus far is excuses about who should file what paperwork and who should file permission for X, Y and Z."
The Professional Footballers' Association said that the "loopholes" that allowed the game to take place before fans – in spite of the sanctions against Hungary – needed to be closed, and called for lifetime bans against supporters who had been racially abusive.
The abuse of the England players at Puskas Stadium began when they were booed as they took the knee before the game as a gesture against racism. Hungary supporters also threw cups at England players and a flare on the pitch.
Racist abuse of players, often from groups of hardcore, far-right supporters, is a blight on the game in many countries, from club to the national level, and has previously proved an issue for England when playing away. In October 2019, England's European Championship qualifier in Bulgaria was halted twice due to racist fan incidents, including Nazi salutes and monkey chants targeting Black players.