Hungary’s raucous fans at Euro 2020 have impressed many with their noise and colour at the packed Puskas Arena in Budapest, the only tournament venue without an anti-coronavirus spectator limit.
The buzzing atmosphere at the 68,000-seater stadium even stoked speculation that UEFA could move the semi-finals and final there from restricted-capacity Wembley.
But the behaviour of some fans has prompted UEFA to probe “potentially discriminatory incidents”, and shone a light on an increasingly hostile climate for gay people in Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Hungary.
The nationalist premier, 58, a football fanatic and fervent supporter of the national team, has been mounting a fierce legal onslaught against the LGBTIQ community in recent months.
Hours before Hungary’s Euro 2020 opener against Portugal kicked off last week, parliament approved a ban on the “promotion” of homosexuality and gender change to minors, legislation that critics say is even harsher than Russia’s law on “gay propaganda”.
Last December homosexual couples were also effectively banned from adopting children, a measure that led to rare criticism of government policy by a Hungarian sports personality.
In a Facebook post that divided fans’ opinions, Hungary goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi expressed solidarity with “rainbow families” and said “everyone has the right to equality”.
In protest against the latest law, Munich’s mayor Dieter Reiter sought to illuminate the Allianz Arena in rainbow colours ahead of Hungary’s final group game against Germany Wednesday, but was denied permission by UEFA.
UEFA is a “politically and religiously neutral organisation” said the sport’s European governing body Tuesday, citing the “political context” of the request as reason for its refusal.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto hailed UEFA for its “right” decision against a “political provocation against Hungary”.
UEFA said Sunday however that it is investigating incidents at Hungary’s two Euro 2020 games so far without specifying details.
Home fans can be heard on video footage of the Portugal game appearing to chant “Cristiano, homosexual!” at Portuguese star Ronaldo.
Other footage appears to show fans singing “Bonjour faggot French!” on their way to the stadium before Hungary’s tie against France last Saturday.
French stars Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema also allegedly received racist abuse during the game.
“I hope Hungary get a large punishment” if the allegations are proven, France defender Lucas Digne said Monday, adding that he didn’t hear the abuse himself.
A homophobic banner and another protesting the ‘taking the knee’ anti-racism gesture were also spotted at pre-match marches organised by the “Carpathian Brigade” ultra fan group.
The incidents make it more difficult to support the national team, Luca Dudits, an activist with gay rights organisation Hatter, told AFP.
“If you go to the stadium and are surrounded by a mostly white male crowd who are chanting and using slurs it’s very alienating for marginalised communities like ours,” she said.
The hardline anti-immigration Orban, who has poured state funding into football since coming to power in 2010, also backed Hungarian fans who booed Irish players “taking the knee” at a Euro 2020 warm-up game earlier in June.
The gesture was a disrespectful “provocation” said Orban, comments that were seen by critics as a green light for fans to boo kneeling players at Euro 2020.
The Carpathian Brigade, whose members are typically clad in black T-shirts, plans to bring “several thousand” supporters to Munich, according to its Facebook page.
Travelling fans should not “rise to any provocation…despite the hysterical incitement by German media in recent days”, it warned.
According to journalist Janos Kele, homophobia or racism is “no worse” in Hungarian football than in countries like England, Italy, or France.
“It’s a small but loud group behind the chants and booing, but what is different in Hungary is the links between government circles and fan groups,” Kele told AFP.
Most top flight clubs in Hungary are run by figures close to Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, including the biggest club Ferencvaros, whose head is a Fidesz vice-president and is closely linked to the club’s ultra fans.
“I understand people being put off the national team because of these links, but I support the team regardless, it should be above politics,” said Kele.