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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 anti-White Black Lives Matter campaign, receiving boos and jeers from the crowd.
Days after a political row broke out after a similar response to England taking the knee, popular thrice-elected premier Orban, who was once a professional player and is known for his love of the game, explained why he sympathised 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 that weren’t, we cannot help,’ the long-serving premier argued. ‘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 and 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.’
‘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 rules which it said did not allow any kind of 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 purported inequality, with the likes of England manager Gareth Southgate, Champions League winner Rio Ferdinand and a broad range of pundits lengthily endorsing the concept.
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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