England-Hungary racist abuse: Fifa opens investigation after outcry

Credit: PA

Fifa has opened disciplinary proceedings in relation to England’s World Cup qualifier in Hungary after supporters in Budapest racially abused visiting players.Raheem Sterling was targeted with objects thrown from the crowd after scoring the opening goal in England's 4-0 victory at a packed Puskas Arena in Budapest. He and substitute Jude Bellingham were subjected to racist chants, while the whole team were loudly heckled as they took the knee before kick-off in their usual protest against racism.

Kick It Out chief executive Tony Burnett said the abuse was “preventable and predictable” and criticised FIFA and UEFA over the failure to ensure that a stadium ban issued by UEFA in July carried over into the World Cup qualifiers.The Professional Footballers’ Association also condemned the abuse and urged FIFA and UEFA to close the regulatory “loophole”.

On Friday evening Fifa issued a statement which read: “Following analysis of the match reports, Fifa has opened disciplinary proceedings concerning the incidents last night at the game Hungary-England.

“Once again, Fifa would like to state that our position remains firm and resolute in rejecting any form of racism and violence as well as any other form of discrimination or abuse. We have a very clear zero tolerance stance against such abhorrent behaviours in football.”

The Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto criticised "complaining" England fans on Friday in a Facebook post.

He accused England of hypocrisy as he pointed to the Italy vs England game during the Euros where chants from England fans drowned out the Italian national anthem.

Hungary were ordered to play two matches behind closed doors, with a third match suspended, by Uefa in July over racist chanting and homophobic banners at their Euro 2020 matches against France and Portugal in Budapest.However, the sanctions do not come into force until next year’s Nations League because the World Cup qualifiers fall under Fifa jurisdiction. Article 66 of Fifa’s disciplinary code allows confederations such as Uefa to request the extension of a sanction into Ffia competition, but Uefa sources insisted its own regulations prevent it from doing so.

It is also still unclear as to whether Fifa will be able to take the sanctions issued by Uefa in July into account in its own investigation.

This is critical, because harsher penalties such as points deductions and expulsion only apply to reoffenders, not for acts treated as first offences.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had urged Football's world governing body this morning to take "strong action" as he joined England footballers in condemning the "completely unacceptable" behaviour on Thursday night.

Jack Grealish was among the players speaking out after the result, condemning the behaviour as "completely unacceptable", while sharing a photo of him drinking from one of the cups hurled onto the field from the home section.

ITV Sport pundits Ian Wright and Lee Dixon both condemned the scenes as they reviewed the shameful incidents with presenter Mark Pougatch after the game.

Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate urged action to be taken but was clear to point out that England have not been immune to problems with fan behaviour.

England still await punishment for trouble caused at Wembley before the summer's Euro 2020 final, while a notable section of home fans have booed the players taking the knee before recent kick-offs.

The Football Association said in a statement: "It is extremely disappointing to hear reports of discriminatory actions towards some of our England players.

"We will be asking Fifa to investigate the matter. We continue to support the players and staff in our collective determination to highlight and tackle discrimination in all its forms."

In 2019, England players were subjected to racist abuse in European Championship qualifiers in both Montenegro and Bulgaria.

'It made you angry in the stadium... with stewards around who were taking no action': ITV commentator Gabriel Clarke on what he witnessed at the game

Speaking directly after the game, England captain Harry Kane said he was unaware of any racist abuse but would speak to his team-mates.

“I didn’t hear that,” he told ITV. “I’ll talk to the boys and see if they heard any of it.

“Look, we’ll have to report it to UEFA as the rules with it. If it’s the case then hopefully UEFA can come down strong.”He later tweeted that it had been a strong performance against a "hostile crowd".

England team-mate John Stones said he did not hear it either but he too hopes for action.

“I personally didn’t hear it, I’ve been told about it after,” he said.

“It is so sad to think that this happens at our games and I hope UEFA and whoever needs to take care of it does and I’m sure they will.

Raheem Sterling and Referee Cüneyt Cakir of Turkey take the knee as Hungary's Attila Fiola points to the RESPECT logo on his jersey. Credit: AP

“We stand together as a team and we will continue fighting for what we believe in as a team and what we believe is right.”

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

“We celebrated our goals as if it is the last one we will score and that is an incredible thing to have as a team and as players.

“We live the game and are so passionate for the shirt and how we conduct ourselves on the pitch. It is our passion, let our football do the talking and that showed tonight.”

Hungarian fans cheer ahead of the World Cup 2022 group match between Hungary and England. Credit: AP

The Hungarian federation (MLSZ) pledged to impose two-year bans on any fans found guilty of misconduct.

“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,” the federation said in a statement.

“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.

“The Hungarian federation and the players and head coach all made an extremely strong communication campaign before the game to call supporters to avoid all kind of racist, xenophobic behaviour during all matches of the national team.”