Back in January, Hungarian football fans were hit with quite an unpleasant surprise. The Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ) asked them to refrain from displaying the historical Greater Hungary map at international football games, along with any merchandise showing Árpád stripes. As it turned out, the watchdog group Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), which also works very closely with the European Football Association (UEFA), found these symbols objectionable.
Some supporters of the national team directed their misguided anger at MLSZ Chairman Sándor Csányi. At the time it seemed he, alas, had no discretion to overrule an UEFA decision for matches organised under the European association’s purview, namely Champions Leauge, Europa League, and Europa Conference League games for clubs; and European Championship, European Championship qualifiers, Nations League, and FIFA World Cup European qualifier games for national teams. As a matter of fact, MLSZ has never tried to keep anyone from taking their Greater Hungary flags, banners, or scarves into Hungarian domestic league or cup games.
What’s more, Csányi and many other MLSZ associates have spoken up against the decision, both publicly in the press and internally through official UEFA channels. And they have made even bolder efforts.
On Tuesday, it was announced that the Greater Hungary map will be allowed in stadiums at international games after all.
The historical symbol, along with the Árpád stripes, will likely be spotted as soon as this Thursday, 23 March, when Hungary are hosting Estonia at the Puskás Arena for an international friendly ahead of the upcoming European Championship qualifiers.
Originally, the press reported that MLSZ Chairman Csányi, who’s also been serving as UEFA vice-president since 2019, and his associates successfully argued to UEFA and FARE that the imagery in question represents unity among Hungarian communities across all borders, and displaying it in and of itself is not an act of racism.
An Odd Twist of Events
However, in an odd twist of events, the Romanian Football Federation (FRF) put out a press release on Wednesday in which they dispute if the Greater Hungary maps are in fact allowed. It reads:
‘We have had discussions with the UEFA Headquarters in Nyon during which it became clear that UEFA is not allowing, nor it will allow, the usage of the symbols mentioned by the Hungarian Football Association at European football games. MLSZ has made an error with their announcement, as the display of these symbols violates the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations (pertaining to provocative and/or politically charged messaging). Therefore, if such a case were to occur, the Romanian Football Federation will certainly notify the Disciplinary Body about that.’
Playsport.ro also obtained a letter sent by UEFA General Secretary Theodore Theodoridis to his counterpart at MLSZ, Márton Vági, in which he expresses his utter surprise at media reports which claim UEFA has reversed its decision on the symbols in question. According to the leaked letter, he wanted to clarify that no such decision has been made and these images are still not permitted.
Despite that, when the online edition of the Hungarian sports daily Nemzeti Sport confronted MLSZ with the Romanian association’s counterclaims, they only reiterated their stance stated previously. They are standing by their official position that Greater Hungary maps and Árpád stripes are very much welcome at the national team’s upcoming games.
By Wednesday evening, MLSZ put out yet another statement for the sake of clarity. In it, they admit that allowing those images into the stadium was a decision of their own that they made after ‘evaluating UEFA’s and FARE’s written statements and carefully weighing the situation’. The release also goes on to say that MLSZ never claimed that UEFA had granted any such permission.
Based on these statements, it seems that
the Hungarian FA is willing to risk sanctions in defiance of UEFA’s ruling,
and hoping to win their case on appeal.
Other symbolism representing Hungarian unity regardless of where Hungarians live is also permitted in stadiums, as long as it only features red, white, and green colours. However, all banners must still be validated by on-sight staff before they can be taken into a stadium, to check for banned symbolisms and flammability.