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Addressing the Irish national football team’s decision to kneel before their friendly match against Hungary on Tuesday, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said he does not sympathize at all with such acts. The prime minister was asked about the event in the government’s press conference on Thursday, responding that kneeling has no place in sport. He also voiced support for the actions of Hungarian fans, saying that the Irish players were the ones who provoked the response of boos and whistles.

Viktor Orbán argued that the understanding of the act of kneeling is dependent on culture, the context of it deciding what is right and what is wrong. He believes that Hungary likely views these gestures differently “than, for example, the British or the Irish.”

Hungarian Fans Boo and Whistle at Irish Football Team for Taking the Knee
Hungarian Fans Boo and Whistle at Irish Football Team for Taking the Knee

While many fans were showing disrespect, Hungary’s team captain Ádám Szalai and other Hungarian players appeared to be pointing at the “respect” badge on their jerseys.Continue reading

According to Orbán, “a Hungarian kneels before God, before his homeland, and if he is proposing to his lover then there is still that third expected instance. In Hungary, every other instance of kneeling is a culturally foreign act.”

The prime minister does not expect the Hungarian national football team to kneel. The minimum, he says, is that “we expect them to fight, to win, and if it so happens that they do not succeed, then to die standing.”

Fact

When the Irish took the knee, those on the field from the Hungarian national football team could be seen pointing at the respect badges on their jerseys. The Hungarian Football Federation (MLSZ) has already stated that the team will “show everyone respect – whether that be in regard to opponents, fans, or anyone else.”

Orbán argued that the reason why the act of kneeling is spreading so quickly is because it originated from Western, formerly slave-owning countries, who are now living with the descendants of slaves. The prime minister described this as “a serious moral burden.”

We as Hungarians do not see this burden, (…) In the carrying of these burdens, we, who were not slave-owners, cannot help them, it is futile of them to bring this burden onto football fields.”

Orbán said he agrees with the Hungarian fans, and when asked more specifically on his views regarding the whistling and booing of the Irish players’ kneeling, he essentially said that the Irish should not be such provocateurs.

My opinion is that if you are a guest in a country, you should understand its culture, and you should not provoke the locals. (…) do not provoke the host.”

The prime minister said the response of the Hungarian fans, which has been described as a racist one by some, “was not the most elegant, but we need to understand its reasoning.”

Fact

The Croatian national football team is following Hungary’s example in the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship, they are not planning to take the knee.

In places like England it has become standard that players kneel before their matches in a show of solidarity against racism, alongside the Black Lives Matter movement. The Croatia national football team, however, has announced that it will not be joining the British in this gesture before their match on Sunday.

Featured photo illustration by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI