Back in 2001 Viktor Orbán paid a visit to the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland to express his ardent desire to host the 2012 Olympics. As we know, that didn’t pan out. I was certain that once he was back as prime minister of Hungary he would make another stab at putting Budapest on the Olympic map. And indeed, shortly after he took office in 2010, talk of hosting the Olympic Games in 2024 began to surface in the media. Soon enough billions of forints were sunk into preliminary studies of its feasibility. I was certain that these studies would prove that holding the games would not be costly, that in fact they would bring money to the country. Such obstacles as not having a decent four-lane highway connecting the Ferenc Liszt International Airport to downtown Budapest was swept aside by optimistic talk about projected infrastructure investment that would be undertaken regardless of whether Budapest wins the bid to host the Olympics.
From the start warning voices called attention to the extremely high cost of hosting the Games and pointed out the relative poverty of the country. Given the state of Hungarian healthcare and education, and the fact that one-third of Hungarians live under the poverty line, they argued that government money, which is in short supply, should be spent elsewhere. Moreover, the actual cost of holding a large sporting event usually runs about double the original estimate. But the Orbán government as usual refused to listen to those who brought up weighty arguments against a Budapest Olympics and went ahead with the plans. At this point some of the forces that oppose this madness tried to hold a referendum on the issue, but the government made sure that never happened.
Viktor Orbán, as we know, has attended every FIFA World Cup game for the last umpteen years, but as far as I can ascertain he has not been an avid follower of the Olympics. He attended only the Sydney Olympics in 2000 when, like now, he was lobbying for the 2012 Olympic Games.
If we can believe Origo, an internet site that has been leaning toward the government lately, Hungary’s proposal was very well received. Orbán’s argument for awarding the bid to Budapest is bizarre. The prime minister intimated that at present Budapest is so much behind times that practically everything will have to be built in the next few years and therefore “truly twenty-first-century circumstances would welcome the fans.” Although it might sound frightening to the inhabitants of the city, Orbán indicated that “according to plans the whole capital will function as a huge Olympic park and the Olympic games would be a large sports festival.”
Orbán delivered a speech in the Hungarian House built in Rio for the occasion where, as usual, he said a few rather curious things. What struck me first was that Orbán praised only those who received gold medals. As if a silver or a bronze was worth nothing. And, he bragged, although Hungarians constitute only 0.2% of the world population they beat the world eight times over. “Eight times we proved to be the best on this Earth out of seven billion people.” Now that’s strange math. In a list I saw of the countries with the most medals per person Hungary was tenth in Rio after Grenada, Bahamas, Jamaica, New Zealand, Denmark, Croatia, Slovenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.
Hungary, he continued, is among the top ten nations in the history of the Olympics and the only country among them that hasn’t been able to hold the Games. Therefore, “we deserve the Olympic Games to be held in Budapest,” or as some newspapers put it, “we are entitled to it.” Just as Hungary is entitled to all the money it receives from Western European taxpayers.
Another comment Orbán made to a journalist of Blikk that raised some eyebrows was that “something is wrong with us, Hungarian men. I don’t know what, but it is time for some soul-searching.” I bet that all those men who didn’t manage to get a gold medal will be thrilled to hear that something is wrong with them.
Finally, we learned that Orbán discovered an Olympic event very much to his liking: “I find pentathlon an undeservedly neglected sport although this is the father of all sports. I think that we could prepare our children best for adult life through the pentathlon.” Why the sudden enthusiasm for this very tasking event where competitors must demonstrate their skills in five different sports: pistol shooting, fencing, swimming, horseback riding, and running? I don’t know, but we’ll see whether more money will be allocated from here on to preparing Hungarians for this event. After all, it all depends on the prime minister.
While Orbán was furiously lobbying in Rio, Publicus Intézet conducted a survey about Hungarians’ attitude toward holding the Olympic Games of 2024 in Budapest. Not much of a surprise. Seventy-five percent of the people think that “the country is simply too poor to host the Olympic Games.” But more about this tomorrow.