I was pleasantly surprised this morning because, despite the holidays, I found quite a few topics that might interest readers of Hungarian Spectrum. For today’s post I picked two, both having to do with sports and, naturally, politics.
The football empire of Greater Hungary
I had not been aware until now that the Orbán government has been generously supporting football academies outside the borders of the country. The favorite for a long time was the Romanian academy in Csíkszereda/Miercurea Ciuc, where the former mayor Jenő Szász was a political ally of László Kövér and in general a favorite of Fidesz. According to 444.hu, a couple of years ago the Hungarian government gave one billion forints to the Csíkszereda Football Academy. An additional 300 million came from Hungary’s most successful pipefitter, Lőrinc Mészáros, who, in recognition of his generosity, was named an honorary citizen of the city. Apparently, in the final months of 2016 the government gave another billion forints to the Csíkszereda Academy.
Early this year Mészáros also became the “owner” of the NK Osijek (in Hungarian Eszék), Class I football team in eastern Croatia. The Hungarian government was again very generous. One billion forints was given to a center that is supposed feed new talent to the Osijek football team. Naturally, Mészáros’s own firm, Mészáros & Mészáros, is the chief sponsor of the club, but other Hungarian companies favored by the Orbán government also support NK Osijek: TRSZ, Duna Aszfalt, Magyar Épitő, and West Hungária Bau. As Benjamin Novák explains in Budapest Beacon, “a particular corporate tax benefit scheme allows corporations to write off 100 percent of donations made to sport clubs meeting certain criteria.” Transparency International, which investigated the case, “believes such contributions amount to a diversion of corporate taxes from public coffers to private sports clubs, and that for this reason such contributions should technically be regarded as public funds.”
Until now, at least the public could learn the names of the corporations that were generous supporters of Viktor Orbán’s favorite sport. According to the latest plans, however, this information will no longer be available. Business secrets, you know.
The Hungarian government, directly and indirectly, spends an incredible amount of money on football. Just for Christmas, according to the latest government decree, 50 billion forints was poured into the clubs of five spectator sports, most of them, of course, football clubs.
But why is the Hungarian government supporting football academies in the neighboring countries? In addition to Csíkszereda and Osijek, several other football clubs in Ukraine, Slovakia, and Serbia are the beneficiaries of the Hungarian government’s largess. One billion was sent to the football academy in Mukacheve (Munkács), another billion to the football academy in Dunájska Streda (Dunaszerdahely), and three billion to the Délvidék Sport Akadémia in Serbia. (Today’s Voivodina used to be called “Délvidék” or “the southern parts.”)
And why did Mészáros buy a team? A partial answer may be, as Mészáros admitted in a casual conversation with journalists, that the price for Croat and Serb players in the football market is a great deal higher than for those from Hungary.
Right-wing attacks against Katinka Hosszú and her American husband
A month ago I covered the struggle between the Hungarian swimmers and Tamás Gyárfás, then president of the Hungarian Swimming Association (Magyar Úszószövetség/MÚSZ). The swimmers’ case was pressed by Katinka Hosszú, the current star of Hungarian swimming.
Katinka Hosszú was victorious. Once Viktor Orbán made it clear that the upheaval in MÚSZ should cease, Gyárfás knew that he would have to resign. Mind you, although he might be despised by the star swimmers, Gyárfás remains popular with the affiliated club managers. A couple of days ago he received the most nominations for the post of president of MÚSZ, although the chance of his regaining his position is close to nil.
At the end of my post on the storm in the swimming pool, I wrote briefly about Hosszú’s American husband and trainer, Shane Tusup, whom the Hungarian swimming establishment resents. Although he is not an easy man to get along with, I came to the conclusion that this resentment has a lot to do with the fact that Tusup is an American, a foreigner. I recalled a television discussion in which the moderator completely lost his cool and abused Tusup, who thinks he is in Uganda instead of Hungary, which is a powerhouse of aquatic sports. He comes here to teach us?
Since then I have encountered many similar reactions to Tusup and, to some extent, to Hosszú as well. Soon after the world championship (25m) ended in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, an opinion piece appeared in Magyar Idők titled “A strange couple.” At that meet Hosszú received seven gold medals, which should have warmed the hearts of all Hungarian nationalists. But, strangely enough, that was not the case. On the contrary, the author of this particular article tried to minimize the importance of her and her husband’s achievement. The author stressed the prominence of Hungarian swimming ever since Alfréd Hajós received two gold medals at the first 1896 Olympic Games. And, he continued, he hasn’t met any “swimming expert” who would “tip his hat” to Shane Tusup, who is internationally recognized and was named “trainer of the year” three times in a row. The author of the article identifies with Sándor Petőfi, who “admired but didn’t like” mountains as opposed to Hungary’s Great Plains. In fact, the locals hate Tusup with such gusto that the Hungarian Swimming Association neglected to mention his trainer-of-the-year award from FINA, the international federation of aquatic sports.
The latest attack came from an extreme right-wing association called Honfoglalás 2000. Honfoglalás is the official historical name for the arrival of Árpád and his tribes in present-day Hungary. Honfoglalás 2000 is best known for its utter devotion to Russia and to Vladimir Putin. 444.hu has written several articles about this strange group, which thinks so highly of Putin that they suggested he should receive the Nobel Peace Prize. They thanked Putin for occupying Crimea. They demonstrated for the Russian-financed Paks Atomic Power Plant with placards reading “Roszatom: Jó atom!” They demanded that Péter Juhász be taken into custody because, according to them, he called on anarchists to commit disorderly acts. You get the idea.
This group had earlier called on the swimmers “to swim and not engage in political discussions.” Tusup’s name appeared in that statement: “We don’t want America (Shane Tusup) to intervene in our sports; we don’t want to introduce American-style, disgusting election campaign style conditions in Hungary. Hajrá Magyarország, hajrá magyarok!” Orbán finishes all his speeches with this sentence, which means roughly “to the finish Hungary, to the finish Hungarians.”
This time Honfoglalás 2000 is convinced that the storm inside the Hungarian Swimming Association was organized by Shane Tusup, who is purposely creating trouble in Hungarian swimming circles and thus jeopardizing the success of the World Aquatic Championships, which will be held in Budapest next year. The reason for his actions? He wants to make sure that the 2024 Olympic Games will be held in Los Angeles and not in Budapest. “Aggressive American politics by now is attacking Hungary even through sports.” The Hungarian swimmers should realize this and should cooperate with the management of the swimming association for the sake of the success of next year’s games. “Those who are not willing to do so can go, for example, to America where they should compete in Hungarian colors—we don’t hold them back.”
One might ignore all this, arguing that these people belong to the lunatic fringe of Hungarian politics. Unfortunately, my sense is that these sentiments are widely shared by those who follow the affairs of the Hungarian Swimming Association. And their numbers are significant because swimming is one of the two most successful Hungarian sports.