For a whole week the Hungarian media has been fixated on the renewed controversy between Katinka Hosszú and the Hungarian Swimming Association (Magyar Úszószövetség/MÚSZ). Hosszú is Hungary’s swimming star who at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro won three gold medals, in two events breaking the Olympic record, and one silver medal.
This is not the first time that Katinka Hosszú and Tamás Gyárfás, president of MÚSZ, have clashed over the association’s supervision of Hungarian swimming. In January 2016 the two were at loggerheads over the less than satisfactory conditions under which Hungarian swimmers were forced to prepare for international meets and, of course, for the approaching Olympics.
It was not a coincidence that Hosszú was the first to complain. She was being trained by her husband, the American Shane Tusup, who devised a regimen that, since 2012, had propelled Hosszú to an incredible series of wins. Although the couple has been living in Hungary for the last three years, the association never approached Tusup for any training advice.
In January, when I first wrote about the conflict between Hosszú and Gyárfás, I called it “a clash between the old and the new.” At this time I was referring only to coaching methods and swimming equipment. Today the conflict has widened. It is now between a new generation of athletes and MÚSZ, a typical Hungarian sports association. This new generation of athletes is no longer willing to be at the mercy of the association and its arbitrary distribution of money. Tamás Gyárfás has been president of MÚSZ for the last 23 years and in this capacity he decides how the funds he receives from the government should be spent. He is the final arbiter of everything related to swimming. For example, as Hosszú tells the story, eight years ago Gyárfás told her that she should retire from swimming. At this point Hosszú took her career into her own hands and left for the University of Southern California to get a degree and train there.
Tamás Gyárfás most likely unwittingly demonstrated the nature of his relationship with the athletes when last January he publicly aired his disappointment over the fact that his “sweet little Katinka” is no more. In order to be in the good graces of Gyárfás, the athlete, who is totally at his mercy, must remain quiet. But now Gyárfás has to face an “iron lady,” as Hosszú calls herself. I’m certain that the bigwigs at MÚSZ blame this “unfortunate” transformation on her American trainer and husband, a foreigner who wants to tell them what to do and what not to do. The clash was inevitable.
Back in January Viktor Orbán himself asked the two to restrain themselves because, after all, the Olympic Games were approaching. But now, given the size of the revolt, I doubt that Orbán will defend Gyárfás. He may well decide to end Gyárfás’s 23-year career at MÚSZ even though Gyárfás is considered to be the consummate survivor. He was described in an opinion piece that appeared in 168 Óra as a “truly emblematic figure of the muddled decades between Potemkin socialism and trashy capitalism.” In the author’s opinion, the achievements of Hosszú and Tusup are the result of their own talent and hard work. Gyárfás’s talent is merely to make unacceptable compromises in order to survive. “A country that remunerates that kind of talent is hopeless.”
In a way, Gyárfás is responsible for the outbreak of this widespread revolt against not only his position but the institution itself. He gave an interview on November 15 in which he boasted that all is well with MÚSZ and “as far as the relationship between MÚSZ and Hosszú is concerned, all is quiet.” Well, Hosszú made sure that the quiet would not last long. A few hours after the interview appeared she fired back. She pointed out that Gyárfás’s claim that Hungarian swimming “has never been better” is simply untrue. She added that Gyárfás can remain in his position only because “we bring the results.” In her opinion the presence of Gyárfás at the head of MÚSZ is damaging for the sport. She called on him to resign.
This time Hosszú was not alone. She was followed in rapid succession by all the Hungarian swimming medalists in Rio. A day later one of the coaches joined the athletes. By that time they were not satisfied with Gyárfás’s resignation. They also wanted the resignation of András Hargitay, the head coach (szövetségi kapitány) who took over László Kiss’s job after Kiss’s rape case from 60 years ago came to light. Hargitay is a retired swimmer from the 1970s who has no coaching experience. Index described him as “Gyárfás’s creation.” Attila Czene, a gold medal winner at the Atlanta Olympics who later served as undersecretary responsible for sports, called MÚSZ a dictatorship and said that “this was the situation already in our time,” meaning the 1990s.
A few words about Shane Tusup’s role in this affair. The Hungarian swimming establishment greatly resents him. Admittedly, he is not an easy man to get along with, but the other day I came to the realization that the fact that he is not a Hungarian may go a long way toward explaining this resentment. I base this on the intemperate reaction of Henrik Havas, a reporter ever since the late 1970s, who moderates a weekly news roundtable on ATV. The most recent show aired on Saturday night and, among other topics, dealt with the storm swirling around MÚSZ. It was during that discussion that Havas lashed out against Tusup. What does this man think? Did he think he was going to Uganda instead of Hungary? Hungary is a powerhouse of aquatic sports. He comes here to teach us? Havas continued in this vein without allowing his guests to say a word. When he was finished with his harangue he abruptly asserted: “let’s move on.” Some of the problems Hosszú and Tusup are facing are not of their own making.
The animosity against Tusup leads me to recent findings documenting the general xenophobia that exists in Hungary. Both Tárki and Závecz came out with their latest polls only a few days ago and found that the fear and hatred of foreigners has never been higher in the country. To the question “If someone asked your opinion whether you would consent to a neighbor who is….” incredible results emerged. Arabs (with a 21% acceptable neighbor rating) are more hated today than Gypsies (32%). Even Christian Syrians are taboo (35%). But don’t think that Americans are much better off: only 50% of Hungarians wouldn’t mind having an American neighbor. They would be even happier with a rock musician (60%).