Tag Archives: Shane Tusup

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

Sports and politics: a football empire and rebellious swimmers

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.

NK Osijek’s stadium / Source: Index

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.

December 27, 2016

Dictatorship in sports: The case of the Hungarian Swimming Association

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.

Viktor Orbán and Tamás Gyárfás

Viktor Orbán and Tamás Gyárfás as sports diplomats

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%).

November 21, 2016

Storm in the swimming pool? No, a clash between the old and the new

The Hungarian media is chock-full of stories about Katinka Hosszú, one of Hungary’s swimming stars and an excellent businesswoman, who advertises herself as the “Iron Lady.” Hosszú became a professional athlete in the last couple of years and amassed a considerable amount of money. But she created a scandal only eight months before the Olympics when she decided to complain openly about the poor conditions which, in her opinion, exist in Hungary for the first-rate swimmers the country has produced in the last few years. As a result of her outburst, Hungary’s swimming world is in turmoil.

Hosszú is no youngster. She is a twenty-six-year-old who began her career in 2003. Her name became internationally known, however, only in 2009 at the World Championship in Rome, a year after she moved to the United States to study and swim at the University of Southern California. Her coach for four years was David Salo, the head swimming coach at USC. Since then she has been a world champion five times in the 400 and 200 meter medley and a European champion in medley, free style, butterfly, and backstroke, just to mention a few of her accomplishments.

You may have noticed that a win at the 2012 Olympics is sorely missing from her awards. In the 2012 London Olympics she didn’t manage to get a medal of any kind. It was at that point that she switched coaches, replacing David Salo with Shane Tusup, whom she married a year later. They settled in Budapest to train for the Olympics. I don’t know what Shane Tusup’s secret is, but from that point on Hosszú has had a phenomenal career.

In an interview Tusup stressed how important the forthcoming Olympics is to both him and his wife. “Post London 2012 we created a four-year plan to head toward Rio 2016, and this year was what I was considering a test year. Katinka and I both sat down to design a brand new program based on what we thought was important and what was not important.”

After three years in Budapest, Tusup and Hosszú decided that they had had enough. Apparently they have been trying to convince the Hungarian Swimming Association (Magyar Úszószövetség / MÚSZ) to adopt more modern techniques and to provide state-of-the-art equipment, to no avail. Hosszú called a press conference where she explained her grievances, after which a huge debate began over whether she is just a spoiled prima donna or whether her complaints are legitimate. Suddenly everybody is a swimming expert.

The older generation, even among Hungarian swimming coaches, think that all those extras, like ice tubs and warming pools, are useless. It is enough just to swim a lot. In addition to these traditionalists, some people resent the American Tusup who dares to tell the locals what to do. Tusup has only one trainee, Hosszú. Obviously, the rest of the first-class swimmers are satisfied with their coach, László Kiss, who by now is 75 years old and perhaps not as open to the many innovations introduced in the sport in the past few years. The question of money also has entered the discussion, but I think that a clash of cultures is at the heart of the feud.

Although Tamás Gyárfás, president of MÚSZ, acts as if he has no idea what is bothering Hosszú because, according to him, MÚSZ provided her with everything she demanded, the facts tell a different story. László Kiss, the regular coach, complained months ago about the lack of available pools for practice. In September 2015, of the six Olympic-size pools in Budapest only two were available to the athletes. Kiss announced that the situation was desperate and that it may influence the outcome of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Hosszú, who was accustomed to better circumstances, apparently has been complaining ever since her return to Budapest from California. She wanted a room of her own, a masseur, an ice bath (used to alleviate inflammation as a result of muscle injury), warming-up tubs, underwater cameras, and software analyzing style and effectiveness. Apparently, after a lot of badgering the cameras have been ordered but not yet installed. The swimmer complains that even the starting blocks that are used in Hungary are not the the same as those that will be used in Rio or at other international events. And having the right kind of starting block is essential: complicated mathematical formulas prove the effectiveness of certain types of blocks.

Starting blocks

Starting blocks

Meanwhile Tusup has his own problems. The locals seems to resent his “interference” and, instead of using his obviously successful techniques, they shun him. Especially Károly Güttler (47), who received a silver medal in the 100 and 200 m. breaststroke in Sydney in 2000 and is now an assistant coach. He is very old-fashioned. According to him, “none of this fancy stuff” is necessary to produce good swimmers.

There are others, like József Ruza, former secretary-general of MÚSZ, who think otherwise. He recalls that years ago foreigners were surprised that the Hungarian swimmers showed up at international meets without a staff. He thinks that Tusup’s talents should be utilized and his methods should be incorporated into the training of the country’s talented swimmers.

Some observers who are not necessarily professionals in the sport look at the rift between Gyárfás, president of MÚSZ, and Hosszú as a clash of cultures but from a slightly different angle from mine. A journalist writing in Gépnarancs quotes Gyárfás as saying “I would like my sweet little Katinka back,” on the basis of which he comes to the conclusion that Hungarian culture doesn’t tolerate the kind of criticism Hosszú levelled against MÚSZ, especially if it comes from a woman. And where women aren’t the only ones who don’t have decent treatment; men don’t either. Both should remain quiet and hope for the best.

And indeed, all the other greats refused to side with Katinka Hosszú, with the exception of Éva Székely, gold medalist at the 1952 Olympics who held the world record in the 400 m. individual medley in 1953. Today, at the age of 89, she claims that the athlete is always right. “Katinka’s job is to swim and win while the association’s is to provide all the help to the athlete…. This girl is a world-class swimmer, and in her place I wouldn’t have bothered to argue with the association.”

Katinka Hosszú insists that she will swim as a member of the Hungarian team although some of her compatriots would gladly send her back to the United States. One bright commentator to HVG’s article said: “Katinka is right, but that Tusup or whatever his name is shouldn’t sound off. If we need advice from America we will let him know.”