Fifa is facing questions over its anti-racism policy after Uefa sources said that world football’s governing body could have forced Hungary to play their World Cup qualifier against England behind closed doors.
Fifa and Uefa are both under pressure to tackle racism more effectively after a section of Hungary supporters aimed monkey chants at Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham during England’s 4-0 win in Budapest on Thursday.
Hungary were ordered to play their next three Uefa home competition matches without supporters after incidents of racism and homophobia, with one of those games suspended for two years, but the ban did not come into effect for their qualifier against Gareth Southgate’s side because it is a Fifa competition.
The lack of unity from the authorities meant that 60,000 fans were at the Puskas Arena, where England were booed for taking the knee before kick-off. Uefa has said that its regulations prevented it from asking for Hungary’s punishment to be brought forward and insiders at European football’s governing body have told the Guardian that Fifa had the power to enforce the stadium ban. Fifa said the sanction applied only to games administered by Uefa, and believes Uefa could have made an approach if it wanted the ban to start on Thursday.
Unless swift action is taken, Hungary will be able to play in front of another full stadium when they host Andorra in qualifying for Qatar 2022 on Wednesday. Fifa, which said it would take “adequate actions” once it receives match reports from the England game, will be under pressure to come down strongly on the Hungarian football federation. Its regulations provide for reoffenders to be deducted points, ordered to play behind closed doors and even expelled from competitions.
Fifa is reportedly holding discussions over whether, given the Uefa sanctions, Thursday’s events would constitute reoffending or a new offence. Hungary could receive more lenient treatment if it is the latter.
The Hungarian federation has vowed to issue two-year bans against any fans guilty of misconduct, although its statement did not explicitly acknowledge any racist behaviour. Along with the abuse aimed at Bellingham and Sterling, England’s players were targeted with missiles and a flare was thrown on to the pitch.
Hungary’s FA (MLSZ) said: “The vast majority of the 60,000 fans present in the Puskas Arena supported the teams in a sporting manner, cheering on the Hungarian national team even when the team was already losing.
“It is in their defence that the minority of disruptive ticket-holders need to be identified and severely punished. Fans entering the field of play, throwing flares and plastic cups are in the process of being identified.
“The MLSZ has already filed or will file police reports against them and will pass on any financial penalties to the perpetrators through civil litigation. Furthermore, at the end of proceedings, those found guilty can expect a two-year ban from all sporting events.”
A Hungarian government official also returned fire at England after Boris Johnson condemned the abuse. The prime minister tweeted: “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.”
Hungary’s minister of foreign affairs and trade, Peter Szijjarto, posted a video on Facebook of England fans loudly booing Italy’s national anthem before the Euro 2020 final at Wembley. Some England fans have also booed their players for taking the knee, and the Football Association could be hit with a stadium ban by Uefa over the disorder that marred the final of the Euros.
“England players are complaining about last night’s ‘hostile atmosphere in Budapest’,” Szijjarto wrote. “The footage below was recorded in Wembley before the European Championship final. You can barely hear the Italian anthem over the whistling England supporters. Did they make similar comments back then???”
The scenes in Budapest sparked an angry reaction from anti-racism campaigners, who called for Fifa and Uefa to ensure that punishments for racism are better co-ordinated.
“This match should have been played behind closed doors,” Piara Powar, the executive director of the Fare Network, which monitors abuse at international fixtures, said. “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 pretence.”