German soccer club Hertha Berlin has fired its goalkeeping coach for his comments about same-sex couples adopting children, immigration, and what he called intolerance of conservative opinions.
The Bundesliga club said on April 6 that the remarks Zsolt Petry made in the Hungarian newspaper Magyar Nemzet do not reflect the team’s values of diversity and tolerance.
Hertha Berlin said that during Petry’s six years with the club he was always open, tolerant, and helpful.
“He never acted in a homophobic or xenophobic way," said CEO Carsten Schmidt in a statement. "Even taking into account the finer details regarding the translation of his remarks, and the fact that several of Zsolt’s remarks from the interview were left out of the publication without consultation, we ultimately concluded that the remarks on the whole do not comply with Hertha BSC’s values.”
In a statement on the club website, the former Hungary goalkeeper, 54, denied he was homophobic or xenophobic and said he regretted his comments about immigration policy.
In the interview published on April 5, Petry suggested Hungarian goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi, who plays for Hertha’s league rival Leipzig, should focus on football instead of getting involved in divisive social issues about same-sex marriage and defending LGBT rights.
He also criticized the narrowing of freedom of speech and liberal intolerance of conservative opinions.
In December 2020, Gulacsi joined a campaign denouncing a constitutional change led by conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban that effectively banned same-sex couples from adopting children.
“As an athlete, I would focus on football in his place and not formulate any position on public, social-policy issues,” Petry said.
“The majority of Hungarian society does not agree with Peter Gulacsi's liberal opinion on rainbow families,” Petry said, adding that while many at home criticized the goalkeeper, “he cannot and should not be condemned just because he spoke his opinion.”
“Yet I do not know what might have caused Peter to stand up for people with homosexual, transvestite, and other gender identities. I sure wouldn’t have stirred up the tempers in his place,” he said.
In another part of the interview, Petry criticized Europe’s migration policies, describing Europe as a Christian continent and immigration policy as a “manifestation of moral decline.”
“I am reluctant to watch the moral degradation sweeping across the continent. Liberals are exaggerating their counteropinions: if you don’t consider migration to be good because a terrible number of criminals have swept Europe, you’re already being cooked for being racist. This is not allowed, the opinion of the other person is less often tolerated, especially if the person represents a conservative position,” he said.
In recent years Orban, has propagated his increasingly conservative ideology, deploying strong language against immigrants and Muslims who he says could upend European culture.