Alleged flag ban in Hungary-Israel basketball match causes uproar

BUDAPEST, Hungary (JTA) — A Hungarian basketball team has apologized for “misunderstandings” around the alleged banning of the Hungarian flag during a match against Israeli players.

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The Szolnoki Olaj KK club and the security company Védelem Holding of Feb. 25 expressed regret about the “real or assumed grievances” of fans who said they were forbidden from waving the Hungarian flag during match last week against the Israeli team Hapoel Holon in Szolnok, a city in eastern Hungary. 

The club and the company said they did not stop fans from taking Hungarian or Székely flags into the stadium “but individual misunderstandings may have occurred.”

The apology followed protests by Jobbik, Hungary’s ultra-nationalist party, which has referred to Israel as an apartheid state and whose representatives have made repeated anti-Semitic statements.

Amid speculation that the flag was banned to dampen nationalistic sentiments and discourage anti-Semitic chants, Jobbik called on Ferenc Szalay, head of the Hungarian Basketball Federation and on Interior Minister Sándor Pintér to state the reason for the move, according to Hungary’s MTI news agency.

In August, chants about killing Jews, Auschwitz and the Holocaust by fans at a soccer match in Budapest between a Hungarian team and a team from Israel drew international condemnations.

Last month, FIFA, the international soccer association, punished Hungary’s national MLSZ squad for the August incident with a $43,000 fine and ruled it should play its next World Cup qualification home game on March 22 in an empty stadium.

The Hungarian Football Association on Feb. 25 filed a lawsuit with the Sports Court of Arbitration for Sport against the decision by FIFA.

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