BUDAPEST: England players being targeted with racist chants by Hungary fans on Thursday will not have surprised soccer authorities.
Hungary had already been ordered by UEFA to play its next two matches in empty stadiums after the racist and homophobic abuse by their supporters marred games in Budapest during the European Championship in June.
So why was there any crowd at all for Hungary’s first game since the Euros, when England visited on Thursday night? Sporting bureaucracy.
Hungary was hosting England in European qualifying for next year’s World Cup, a game which fell under the jurisdiction of global governing body FIFA rather than UEFA. Hungary fans will not be shut out of home games until the UEFA Nations League next year.
European soccer’s leading anti-discrimination official was startled by the lack of urgency in ensuring the original sanction applied for the England game.
“This match should have been played behind closed doors,” Piara Powar, executive director of the FARE network, told The Associated Press. "It does not make sense that a set of supporters sanctioned for discrimination in the European Championships are then free to racially abuse members of the next team they play because it’s a World Cup qualifier.
“That is not a punitive sanction designed to deal with a chronic problem such as racism or homophobia. It is a pretense."
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN DONE
FIFA could have chosen to extend the enforcement of the two-game stadium ban to apply in any match after raising it with UEFA. Or the primary responsibility could have been with UEFA to ask FIFA to do so, as its disciplinary regulations state. That is what happens in match-fixing and corruption cases, when soccer bodies seek to ensure players or officials are banned from having any role in the sport.
But there was no global application of Hungary's punishment. FIFA and UEFA “don’t care enough to do anything about it," said former England and Arsenal striker Ian Wright, who faced racist abuse playing in the 1980s and 90s.
“You can’t believe that two organizations can’t get together and say they are banned," Wright said on British broadcaster ITV. “The sad thing is ... Black players will know that they are probably going to get racially abused because they are banned as it is and they are allowed back in."
Wright felt it was inevitable that England winger Raheem Sterling was going to be subjected to monkey chants when he went down in the penalty area during the game.
“They know they are going to get the abuse,” Wright said. “It’s in their workplace this happens.”
There was no immediate comment from FIFA.
“We should be able to have systems in place that recognize the seriousness of this problem, take offenses seriously and ensure consistency of sanctions," said Powar, whose FARE network gathers evidence on racism cases for UEFA.
That inconsistency shows why players from English teams have been taking a knee for more than a year now. They don’t believe the authorities are doing enough to punish racism.
Hungary fans also jeered England players taking a knee before kickoff in the game won 4-0 by Gareth Southgate's side. But England fans also booed the anti-racism gesture by their own players at the European Championship.
It's why Southgate was cautious not to condemn Hungary ahead of the game at the Puskas Arena.
“I never like it when we look outside when we’ve not got our own house in order," the England manager said, also referencing the violence of home fans at the Euro 2020 final in July and his own players facing racist abuse.
After the match, Southgate denounced “completely unacceptable” behavior by Hungary fans.
“Although some people are stuck in their way of thinking and prejudices, they are going to be the dinosaurs in the end because the world is modernizing,” Southgate said. “Hungary isn’t anywhere near as diverse in their population as our country is, it is still taking us a long, long time to get to where we need to get to and inevitably, if other countries don’t have that same level of diversity, it is probably not in their thinking in the same way as in our country.
“We’ll continue to do what we do, continue to try set the right example for young people in our country who will be more influenced by us than people will be elsewhere.”
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Unless FIFA responds to the English Football Association’s complaints and takes swift against of its own against Hungary, there will be fans back in the Budapest stadium when Andorra visits for another World Cup qualifier on Wednesday.
Separately, when Hungary was punished in July, UEFA said it was suspending the enforcement of a stadium closure for a third match for a probationary period of two years. The latest discriminatory behavior by fans has come during that time, albeit in a FIFA match.