Tensions were already high between the Hungarian and Soviet water polo teams, as the Soviets had taken advantage of their political control of Hungary to study and copy the training methods and tactics of the Olympic champion Hungarians.
Then, on 23 October 1956, a demonstration by students of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics escalated into an uprising against the government in Budapest. On 1 November, Soviet tanks began rolling into Hungary and from 4 to 10 November forces began suppressing the uprising with air strikes, artillery bombardments, and tank-infantry actions.
At the time, the Hungarian water polo team was in a mountain training camp above Budapest. They were able to hear the gunfire and see smoke rising. The players were the defending Olympic champions; with the Summer Olympics in Melbourne two months away, they were moved into Czechoslovakia to avoid being caught in the revolution. The players only learned of the true extent of the uprising and the subsequent crackdown after arriving in Australia and they were all anxious for news of friends and family.
By the start of the Olympics, the uprising had been suppressed and many players saw the Olympics as a way to salvage pride for their country. "We felt we were playing not just for ourselves but for our whole country", said Zádor after the match. The match was played in front of a partisan crowd bolstered with expatriate Hungarians (many of whom had been in the boxing arena before to see the Hungarian László Papp) as well as Australians and Americans, two of the Soviet Union's Cold War opponents.