Ironically, on Independence Day, this assumption was once again confirmed in the Hungarian city of Sombatgei, where a basketball match between the national teams of Lithuania and Hungary took place.
On August 24, 2022, one of the group stage matches of the FIBA World Basketball Championship between Lithuania and Hungary took place in the "Arena Savaria" sports complex in the Hungarian city of Sombatgei. For our Lithuanian brothers, basketball is a cult game so there are fans of this game in every family. Therefore the match was attended by a large delegation of Lithuanians, including Lithuanian diplomats and journalists, who also brought along their children.
Apart from basketball, supporting Ukraine, in fact, has also become part of Lithuanian culture. As a result, children of Lithuanian fans brought to the event both Lithuanian and Ukrainian flags. It was completely acceptable because literally before the match, the Lithuanians congratulated their Ukrainian colleagues in Europe on Independence Day.
What was the surprise for the Lithuanians when, after they and their children unfurled the Ukrainian flags in the stands of the match, the representatives of the security of the "Arena Savaria" complex approached them and demanded that they must put them away, and then they just took flags to prevent attendants from displaying them again.
Diplomatic representatives of Lithuania to the OSCE wrote about this on their Twitter account. And soon an article about it was published in one of the Lithuanian online media.
One of the fans, who unfurled the flag of Ukraine at the match, talks about the event as follows:
"On August 24, the Lithuanian national basketball team played a qualifying match for the World Basketball Championship against Hungary, so we decided to go there to support them. But since it was a very special day for Ukraine - the Independence Day of Ukraine, which coincided with the 6-month since the beginning of Russia's shameful and aggressive war against Ukraine, we took both Lithuanian and Ukrainian flags to the event.
During the introduction of the Lithuanian national team, we, the Lithuanian fans, displayed many Lithuanian flags that we had, as well as the flag of Ukraine. This was done as a sign of our solidarity and support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, who so heroically defended themselves against Russian aggression. In the sports arenas, stadiums, and streets of Lithuania, you will see thousands of Ukrainian flags - so it was our gesture of support.
However, just a few minutes later, a security guard appeared in front of me and tried to explain that I’m not allowed to display the Ukrainian flag. According to him, only the flags of Lithuania or Hungary can be displayed at the arena during the match. He did not explain such a restriction but only repeated his demand. He insisted that I gave him the blue and yellow flag or, if I didn't, I would go away with him.
I was with two children who were immediately frightened by this situation. It should be admitted that the guard behaved professionally and politely, but this situation was too dramatic for the children. So I rolled up the flag and placed it near my seat. A few minutes later, 3 guards returned and demanded to give them the Ukrainian flag and kept it in a locker until the end of the match.
After the match, we got our Ukrainian flag back to us. Lithuanian fans gathered near the arena and in front of the Lithuanian and Ukrainian flags chanted "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!"
Since I played basketball for my school and continue to be passionate about this sport, I turned to my friends who have worked in the sports field for a large part of their lives.
According to them, there is no existing rule that would prohibit displaying the flag of a third team during a match between two teams.
Firstly, the national team of Ukraine also plays in this tournament in group L, while Hungary and Lithuania play in group K. However, this means that Ukrainian or any other fans are allowed to attend the matches and cheer for any team within the tournament. Including using flags of national teams.
Secondly, league members from other countries can play as part of any teams (even the national ones). At the same time, fans are free to use the national flags of the other league members to honor their professionalism in the game. Although there is no mention of league members from Ukraine in the Lithuanian or Hungarian teams, the very principle of prohibiting the use of the Ukrainian flag at competitions between Hungary and Lithuania is absurd.
Even though the construction of the Savaria Arena belongs to a Hungarian legal entity, everything that happens during the matches must be under the control of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), which is the organizer of the competition. Only FIBA sets the rules on how to play and how to cheer at its sporting events.
Accordingly, FIBA organizers are represented in Hungary by the Hungarian Basketball Federation, which, on behalf of the championship organizers, rents sports facilities, sells tickets, and ensures security at events.
It also establishes the rules at the stands.
This means that the guards, who demanded that the flag of Ukraine be removed, were given an explicit or implicit instruction or order not to allow Ukrainian symbols at the matches.
Who exactly (and why) gave such an illegal order, which is not laid down anywhere and constitutes quite an obvious disrespect forUkrainian symbols, even more so on the country's Independence Day?
This needs to be investigated in order to receive explanations from the Hungarian Basketball Federation and from the authorities of Hungary, which allow illegal prohibition of the display of Ukrainian symbols.
In Ukraine, FIBA is represented by the Basketball Federation of Ukraine (FBU), headed by Mykhailo Brodsky. As a member of FIBA, the Ukrainian federation has the right to seek an explanation of the incident and get a comprehensive answer on the reasons why Lithuanian fans are prohibited from displaying at the stands the flag of one of the tournament's participating teams.
In fact, we have known the answer to these questions all the way. The Russian corruption tumor has long penetrated all state and non-state organizations in Hungary, as well as sabotaged the authorities of the European Union. It affected our Lithuanian friends, too. Fortunately, a friend in need is a friend indeed. On the Twitter account of the Lithuanian delegation to the OSCE, you can watch a video of how our Lithuanian brothers celebrated Ukraine's Independence Day, chanting "Glory to Ukraine!" after the match.
Photo by Petro Valinčiaus