Pressure on Fifa to act after England players racially abused in Hungary

Hungary were already facing games behind closed doors due to their supporters’ behaviour

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Friday 03 September 2021 13:33
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<p>Raheem Sterling speaks to the referee during Thursday’s World Cup qualifier in Budapest </p>

Raheem Sterling speaks to the referee during Thursday’s World Cup qualifier in Budapest

The big question now is not just how Fifa will act in the wake of what happened in Budapest but whether more should have been done before.

Hungary were already facing games behind closed doors due to the behaviour of their supporters at Euro 2020 but because that is under Uefa’s jurisdiction rather than Fifa’s, it won’t apply until the next European Championship qualifiers. It seems such a preposterous situation, especially since Uefa are ultimately under Fifa’s umbrella.

The European body justifiably gets criticism for some of their responses to racism but they are at least transparent, accessible and explain the steps that led to their decisions. Many just tend to disagree with the extent of the punishment.

In a statement on Friday, Fifa said: “First and foremost, Fifa strongly rejects any form of racism and violence and has a very clear zero tolerance stance for such behaviour in football. Fifa will take adequate actions as soon as it receives match reports concerning yesterday’s Hungary-England game.”

We wait to see what Fifa do. There is pressure now and a spotlight.

The England players weren’t waiting around, though. They’ve already decided their own response. It is to revel in putting it right, to show they won’t be cowed by the worst intimidation or abuse. They will rise way above it – and go way above your team.

It is thoroughly depressing that this is far from the first time England have faced this, or that Gareth Southgate has had to address it, but it did feel like the next step in their approach. That could be heard in the words of John Stones, although he insisted he hadn’t heard any monkey chants. He’d just had to sidestep a flare, having also had drinks thrown at him.

“I think we definitely have the mindset of ‘let the football do the talking’ and tonight we did that.”

It is the best possible response. These lads have admirably said all they possibly can on these actual issues. Southgate himself argued that.

“There’s no more that this group of players and all the staff in fairness can do in the fight against racism. We’re trying to uphold our part of it and other people have got to take the right action to make progress.”

He later expanded: “I don’t think our players can do anything more than they have done over the past two or three years and in trying to get right messages out, make the right stand.

“It’s for other people to protect them, for me to protect them in the main, the authorities to protect them as well, they shouldn’t have to be subjected to any form of racism.”

Southgate did also make a point of saying much of that applied to some of England’s own support base, not least given the boos before Euro 2020. He was also diplomatic enough – and correct – to state that, just as everyday England fans shouldn’t be tarred by the behaviour of the problematic element, the same applies to Hungary.

Many home supporters were hugely apologetic. One emailed The Independent to express his regret about the night.

“I have to say there’s a balance in the crowd, as we know at home, not everyone at home causes problems,” Southgate added.

“Tonight our anthem was really respected remarkably well so it is not fair to criticise all of the Hungarian fans, a lot were generous and behaved themselves extremely well.

“It’s a very similar situation to the one we find at home, I think. The individuals found responsible need to be dealt with, I think there’s evidence people were filmed and we have got to hope that the authorities deal with that in the right way.”

While the actual football seems trivial throughout all this, the players themselves are using it as part of something bigger, and it said something grander about the team. It showed how unified they truly are.

This was why there was never any hint of any England player having reservations about taking the knee. There was none of that. Those who initially wanted to explained their perspective, and all appreciated it.

We saw one positive consequence of that on Thursday night. As the players faced the worst type of abuse and intimidation they looked more together than ever.

We now need to see the consequences for some of the behaviour they were subjected to.

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