The Iron Lady’s business venture and the Orbán government

Aside from a post I wrote about the World Aquatic Championships held past summer in Budapest, I haven’t paid much attention to the affairs of the Hungarian Swimming Association, which for a while was in total turmoil due to the revolt of the swimmers, led by Katinka Hosszú, the star of Hungarian swimming. That revolt ended with a victory for Hosszú, who managed to get rid of Tamás Gyárfás, the long-serving president of the Association.

The storm that Katinka Hosszú created has since subsided, and one hears little about the Hungarian Swimming Association nowadays. On the other hand, there is a lot of news about Katinka Hosszú, and not just because she keeps piling up gold medals all over the world. I’m much more interested in her business venture and how she managed to get the Hungarian government to be her chief sponsor. I find this process especially intriguing because Katinka Hosszú, along with her American husband, has been looked upon as the embodiment of the businesslike American spirit. Coming from an environment where sports are sponsored by large corporations, the Hosszú-Tusup couple defied expectations by ingratiating themselves with the Orbán government, seeking support for their business when Katinka will no longer be able to swim and smash record after record.

The couple has already begun preparing for Katinka’s retirement from swimming. In 2014 they set up the Iron Corporation and called their business venture, a swimming academy, Iron Aquatics. It was named after Hosszú, who calls herself the Iron Lady. Today the Iron Corporation has 30 employees and is profitable.

The problem is that Budapest doesn’t have enough Olympic-size pools for all those athletes who must spend the better portion of their day in the water. And it is here that the Hungarian state comes into the picture.

Shortly after the World Aquatic Championships came to a close, it was reported that Iron Aquatics was renting space from the newly-built Duna Aréna. The internet news site 24.hu has been trying for months to find out how much the Hosszú-Tusup couple is paying for the privilege. Its journalists were sent from pillar to post, but government officials refused to reveal details of the arrangement. About all we know is that it was agreed that Iron Aquatics could use the “teaching pool” of the Duna Aréna even before the building was officially opened. As Hosszú announced on her Facebook page, with access to this swimming pool, Iron Aquatics, in addition to training professional swimmers, can now also teach children how to swim properly. The arrangement most likely is illegal because the Duna Aréna cannot be used for business purposes, and Hosszú’s venture is an obvious business enterprise.

By the way it looks, whatever the arrangement with Duna Aréna is, it is only temporary, until Hosszú has her very own complex on Csillebérc, an area about half the size of Margitsziget (46 hectares), which was used during the Rákosi  and Kádár regimes as a campground for worthy pioneers. The famous narrow-gauge train, maintained by children under adult supervision, can also be found here. The area illegally ended up in private hands, and the Hungarian state waged a legal battle that lasted about 20 years to recover the property. This summer, with no court decision in sight, the government settled with the owners and paid an exorbitant amount of money for a hunting lodge on the property. The government refused to reveal details of the settlement, but according to inside information the government was so eager to start building a swimming center that it paid the owner 1.5 billion forints. This is apparently 26 times more than the lodge is worth.

Headlines like “Katinka Hosszú may get Csillebérc this week” didn’t sound too good, so Tünde Szabó, former silver-medalist Olympic swimmer in 1992 and nowadays undersecretary in charge of sports in the ministry of human resources, explained that it is not Hosszú who is getting a swimming academy. Csillebérc will be one of four training centers the government will build, which will be devoted to producing future champions. She stressed that the academy will be in the hands of the Hungarian state but added that “at the same time, if our successful athletes who became role models want to pass their knowledge to younger generations, the opportunity should be given to them.”

In brief, yes, Hosszú convinced the Orbán government to build a most likely very expensive sports center for Iron Aquatics. On December 28 the government gave its blessing to the creation of all four facilities. We know how much money has been spent on Orbán’s football academy, and there is no question that these four academies are going to be expensive affairs as well. In addition to the swimming academy on Csillebérc, there will be kayak and gymnastic academies in Budapest and a pentathlon academy in Székesfehérvár.

Meanwhile Katinka and her famed coach and husband are having a rough time at home, which is being watched with a certain amount of satisfaction by those who couldn’t stand Shane Tusup, who by all reports is hard to take. He made no secret of his low opinion of the luminaries of the Hungarian swimming scene. Origo has already devoted two long articles to attacking him, and Viktor Orbán’s favorite sports paper, Nemzeti Sport, published an article expressing worries about the future of the “Hosszú-Tusup brand.” The Orbán government is planning to spend billions on a swimming academy and therefore the “Iron Empire” is not in danger, the author of the article says. But what will happen to Katinka?, asks the worried sports writer.

The author of the article is worried about Hosszú as an athlete, but in my opinion Iron Aquatics is in greater danger because, after all, it was Tusup who made Hosszú what she is today. Those parents from all over the world who already envisage their sons and daughters as second Michael Phelpses and Katinka Hosszús might think twice before turning to Iron Aquatics without the famous Shane Tusup.

January 2, 2018
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Jean P
Guest

Katinka Hosszú knows how to handle Orban, or is it the other way around?

Istvan
Guest
Off topic but related to prior discussions. State Secretary for Church, Citizenship and Civil Relations of the Ministry of Human Resources (Emmi) Miklós Soltész stated in an interview published in Magyar Idők on Tuesday: “We must not forget who we are, where did we come from who built this country and what role did they take in this working with historic Christian churches. Anyone who accepts this and observes our laws is in place in Hungary. But we strongly reject all kinds of extremism, no-go zones, the emergence of parallel societies, that is, what characterizes Western multicultural societies. And we will also reject this if anyone wants to force us. ” In general Soltész is theologically consistent with Orban’s Christmas essay that was discussed on Eva’s blog. Miklós Soltész also discussed that there were numerous NGOs in Hungary doing good for the country and many were religious in nature. Soltész added this: “It is a fact, however, that we are faced with a few dozen, very loud, organizations with significant foreign influence and resources who prefer to call themselves civilians, but in reality they engage in political activity. (…) Behind these organizations is typically the figure of György Soros…” Soltész… Read more »
Istvan
Guest

Related to my post MIKLÓS UGRÓ in a commentary yesterday in Magyar Nemzet took on Orban as a theologian see https://mno.hu/velemeny/apologetak-2437350

He writes “Viktor Orbán is not the official leader of any Christian denomination in Hungary at present, but in practice he directs more than churches. In honor of Christmas, the Prime Minister also ventured on the rugged soil of theology, although the story of salvation had not changed. It is unnecessary to analyze the exegetical work [hopefully I translated this correctly] of the head of government in detail, just to note that one of the conditions of Christian life is the pursuit of self-love. After that, to achieve a measure of love for Christ, selfishness is not a Christian solution, and even the desire for hatred against migrants does not justify it.”

Guest

OT too but again showing “Wes Geistes Kind” Fideszniks are:
My wife just told me about the latest adventures of the boss of Csiki Sör (it’s on 444) – somehow he manged to avoid prison by fleeing to Hungary it seems.
Remember the brewery that “valiantly fought against the Heineken red star”.

Marty
Guest
Katinka Hosszú is already a champion with countless medals so even if her career goes downhill from now she will retain her prestige. She is a female role model, mostly for young girls and unless it turns out she was doping all along (which some foreign journalists suspect) I think she can keep her reputation intact among the general public – even if her very cozy relationship with the government and her stonewalling re her sweetheart deal about the exclusive use of the Duna Arena make her quite unpopular among some of the Budapest elite. Basically Orban has coopted the Hosszú, just as the Communist knew they had to coopt celebrities. Hosszú sure cannot anymore be critical of the system – perhaps she will even implicitly help her paymasters (against the opposition). In Hungary intellectuals have zero influence, whatever they say is irrelevant. But if Katinka Hosszú would be openly critical of Orban let alone stand by an opposition figure (as did fellow Olympic champions Krisztina Egerszegi and Istvan Kokó Kovacs by Orban back in 2002) that would be am extremely big PR blow to Orban (Orban couldn’t dismiss a sports champion as he himself elevated them to be the… Read more »
Guest

I heard similar things re the real estate from our young ones when we were in Bp last week – generally the Buda hills look like there’s more and more really exclusive property reserved there.
And many of the houses/apartments were sitting empty past Xmas – just like in London. The extremely rich like to have several places where they might move in case of “danger” …

wrfree
Guest

I see the Iron Aquatics kids are sporting tees with ‘HWAPO’ on them. That’s ‘Hard Work ……Pays Off’. We can probably bet that with all the billions going into the ‘water’ project that VO as grand sport motivator also wants to get ‘paid off’.

And therein is the rub as that those butterfly strokes need to be quite at another level if he expects ‘remuneration’. But if football is any indication when it comes to ‘going for goal’ the nation might be just waiting for some scissor kicks to hit the behind.

Fact is VO is on the wrong track as he thinks success will come by just throwing money around. But of course he wants the ‘easy’ money coming in at the back end as athletes do their ‘hard work’ for what they love. Not a good combination at all in the glory/gelt hunter arena.

qaz
Guest

It so happens that they are actually doing a great job with the kids. Probably much better that what has been done (and is still being done) with football.

As Voltaire aptly said: “Nul n’a le privilège de toujours se tromper.”
(no one has the privilege of always being wrong)

bimbi
Guest

Swimming is something that is understood in Budapest, witness all those folks who get to their local pool and swim, quite unlike Vienna, oddly enough, which is just “up the road”. It is a great sport – to do, I mean. Major character builder!

As to Hosszu Katinka, I don’t know. If she leaves a legacy of better, faster swimmers in Hungary, that would be great. And the idea of more pools in Hungary/Budapest appeals to me. Maybe the moniker “Iron Lady” has some appeal here, but not to too many Brits, thanks to the execrable Mrs. Thatcher.

Aida
Guest

I guess we need not linger too long over what Brits think about anything since their Brexit bollocks. But to complete the assessment of Margaret Thatcher you must have forgotten that the lady won three general elections. Her rule laid the foundation for prosperity in the UK then still enjoy. But not for very much longer.
How can a swimmer be “iron”?

bimbi
Guest

Her rule laid the foundations for the appalling income disparity and increasingly wide-spread poverty in Britain. Some legacy…