|Hungarian youths hold an Israeli flag before the start of their friendly soccer match against Israel in Budapest's Puskas stadium on August 15, 2012. Photo by Reuters|
BUDAPEST - The Hungarian Football Association will appeal FIFA's decision to ban fans from attending the country's World Cup qualifying game against Romania in March because of a racist incident last year.
The punishment followed anti-Semitic chanting by fans in a friendly at home against Israel in August, for which the Hungarian FA (MLSZ ) expressed regret, but it was unhappy with the ruling to play the 2014 World Cup Group D qualifier behind closed doors.
"That the Hungarian national team must serve its punishment at a vital game in the most prestigious international tournament for an incident at a friendly game seems overly harsh and unfair even before receiving the precise reasoning," the MLSZ said.
"Therefore MLSZ will file its appeal after it receives the ruling in order for a more just decision in proportion to what happened (in August )."
The MLSZ added it wrote a letter after the August friendly to the Israeli ambassador in Hungary and the Israeli Football Association and FIFA to apologize, in which it "condemned the actions of a minority of fans at the game."
"Considering the extremists' behavior experienced at the game, FIFA's action against such incidents is understandable," the MLSZ added in the statement released on Tuesday, having cancelled a previously scheduled interview with Reuters.
"MLSZ - like FIFA and UEFA - is still determined to expel from the stadiums hateful acts and fan behavior that do not adhere to the spirit of fair play.
"It is committed to making sure extremist voices that do not adhere to civilized norms disappear from Hungarian football fields as soon as possible."
On top of the anti-Semitic chanting last August, Hungarian fans also waved Iranian flags at the Israeli team, who were warned of a "severe threat" to their safety.
Hungary and Romania, who meet on March 22, are locked on nine points from four games, three behind group leaders Netherlands and six ahead of any challengers for second spot.
Given the importance of the game there were contrasting reactions in Budapest and Bucharest.
Hungary's national sports daily ran a full front-page image Wednesday saying "Locked out!" and called the decision "shocking" while fan pages on social media sites exploded with condemnations of FIFA and its leaders, often repeating anti-Semitic slurs.
Romania's sports press was jubilant over the ban on spectators, believing it will help their team in its efforts to qualify for their first World Cup since 1998. Hungary has not made it since 1986.
In an article headlined "We've escaped from the inferno of Budapest," Prosport quoted former player and coach Emerich Jenei as saying: "It's a huge advantage. I know the Hungarian public well and know what I'm talking about."
|Hungarian fans chanting anti-Semitic slogans against Israel (AFP)|
World Cup - Bulgaria, Hungary
To Play Behind Closed Doors After Racism
Source: Yahoo Sport UK & Ireland
Bulgaria were sanctioned after a group of supporters racially abused Denmark substitute Patrick Mtiliga every time he touched the ball after entering the field in the second half of their 2014 World Cup qualifier in Sofia in October.
Hungary's punishment followed anti-Semitic chanting by fans in a friendly at home to Israel in August.
Some Hungarian supporters chanted slogans such as "Dirty Jews", "Buchenwald", and "Viva Mussolini" as Israel's players listened to their national anthem.
In both cases, FIFA's disciplinary committee warned that a repetition could lead to harsher penalties which include a possible points deduction, the forfeiting of the match or even disqualification from the competition.
In an unusually strongly-worded statement, FIFA described the incidents in Sofia as "offensive, denigratory and discriminatory" while the incidents in Budapest were labelled "abhorrent".
The sanctions came as FIFA's European counterpart UEFA is accused of being too lenient on cases of racism, letting offending clubs off with fines.
Porto, Lazio and Serbia have all been given fines over recent racism cases by European football's disciplinary committee although UEFA itself has appealed the Serbia decision, relating to an under-21 match at home to England, and asked for stronger sanctions.
Bulgaria, whose next home game in Group B is against Malta in March, were also fined 35,000 Swiss francs (£24,000) and Hungary, who host Romania also in March in Group D, were fined 40,000 francs (£27,000).
Hungary's match is potentially decisive as the two sides are level in second place with nine points, three behind leaders and clear favourites Netherlands.
FIFA said that during the Bulgaria match, also marred by a firework-throwing incident in the seventh-minute, fans were warned by the stadium announcer about their behaviour in the 73rd minute.
"Although the level of abuse subsided, audible racist abuse still continued until the final whistle," said FIFA.
"The disciplinary committee agreed that the offensive, denigratory and discriminatory actions of a small group of Bulgarian supporters, was shameful and a clear breach of the FIFA Disciplinary Code.
"In addition, the incendiary devices thrown, which can pose considerable threats to personal safety, are also not tolerated."
FIFA said that in Hungary's case, it had been informed by the FARE (Football Against Racism Europe) group that some supporters had made anti-Semitic chants and displayed offensive symbols.
"The members of the FIFA disciplinary committee were unanimous in condemning an abhorrent episode of racism, anti-Semitism, and of political provocative and aggressive nature perpetrated by supporters of the Hungarian national team," said FIFA.
It added that the Hungarian federation had acknowledged and regretted the fans' behaviour.
Last week, AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, who played for Ghana at the 2010 World Cup, took his shirt off and walked off the pitch after being racially insulted in a pre-season friendly against fourth-tier side Pro Patria. His team-mates followed him and the match was abandoned.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter described Boateng's behaviour as courageous on Monday, although he said such gestures were not the long-term solution to racism.
Pro Patria must play their next home league match behind closed doors.