Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, has chastised the Republic team for their knee gesture.
The Republic of Ireland players were booed when they took a knee ahead of their friendly against Hungary on Tuesday evening, prompting Viktor Orban to accuse them of “provocation.”
Sections of the crowd at Budapest’s Szusza Ferenc Stadion jeered as the Ireland players made the anti-racism gesture before kick-off, a reaction that manager Stephen Kenny afterwards termed as “incomprehensible.”
“We can’t understand this gesture in any other way,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a hard-line nationalist who has taken a harsh position against immigration, said at a press conference on Thursday. From our cultural perspective, it’s an incomprehensible thing, a provocative act.
“When supporters are aroused, they behave as supporters do in general. They don’t always do things in the most elegant way, but you must understand why.”
Taking a knee, a protest movement started by Premier League footballers last year to draw attention to discrimination, has become a contentious issue, with the England team being booed by some of their own fans before recent friendlies against Austria and Romania, prompting manager Gareth Southgate to write an open letter to supporters.
Orban, on the other hand, said the symbolic gesture had its roots in “slave-owning countries… which Hungary was never,” and that it had “no place on a sports field.”
“Bringing that huge moral historical burden on to a football pitch doesn’t help, it doesn’t liberate them from it,” he remarked. This isn’t a viable option.”
Hungary is one of the host nations for the Euro 2020 finals, which begin on Friday with the national team competing as one of the 24 teams.
They will begin their Group F campaign against Portugal on Tuesday evening at the Puskas Arena in Budapest, before welcoming world champions France four days later. The Portuguese and the French will play on June 23. Four days later, the venue will host a last 16 match.