Tag Archives: sports

Financing of Hungarian sports: court rules it must be transparent

Even small victories can lift anti-Orbán hearts nowadays in Hungary. Thanks to the recent decision of the Kúria, Hungary’s highest judicial body, Viktor Orbán was rendered a defeat that must have hit him hard. At risk is what he considers to be one of his greatest achievements, the Felcsút Football Academy.

Transparency International spent a considerable amount of time and energy investigating the government’s lavish support of sports and came to the conclusion that the sports financing system the Orbán government established is rotten to the core. In the course of its investigation Transparency International also ascertained that the “absolute winner of the whole system is the village of Felcsút and its football club.” Felcsút has become the symbol of everything that is wrong in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. It is a village of 2,000 people with one of the most lavish football stadiums, which can seat 4,500. The club uses all sorts of tricks to entice people to attend the club’s games, usually to no avail. The stadium is practically empty most of the time. In fact, according to those in the know, Hungarian football is dead, and the incredible amount of money that was poured into the game was an utter waste. Hungary’s FIFA standing is the same as it was before.

Over the years people have tried to find out how much money was being spent on sports, mostly football. But the system is intentionally complicated in order to hide the exact amount that comes from two main sources: direct grants allocated for sports in the budget and something called Társasági Adókedvezmény/TAO (Corporation Tax Allowance), introduced in 2011. Corporations can get a tax break if they support one or more of five sports: football, handball, basketball, water polo, and ice hockey. Money allocated to support sports is considered to be part of the tax owed. Thus, all money that is donated to these sports is a direct loss to the central budget. Since 2011, according to the latest estimate, 330 billion forints of corporate tax money was diverted to sports organizations. Or, put another, more shocking way, in the last six years the Hungarian state has given up one out of every nine forints in tax revenue.

From this money 128 billion went to football clubs and 86 billion for handball, while the rest was shared by basketball, water polo, and hockey. Viktor Orbán has been insisting for years that TAO is not public money and therefore no one has the right to learn about the sponsors, the recipients, and the amount of the money donated.

Interest in Hungarian football–Debrecen Stadium, which can seat 20,000. Cost €40 million

Transparency International, being convinced that the tax allowance is public money, asked the ministry of human resources for their allocation figures, which was denied. Transparency at that point sued the ministry. In the first instance, Transparency lost the case. The decision was based on tax secrecy. In addition, the judge didn’t consider the requested data to be of public interest. On appeal, however, the decision was reversed. Tax secrecy as a reason for denying access to the information was discarded, and the court ruled that the TAO monies are, after all, considered to be public funds. The ministry then turned to the Kúria, and on October 25, 2017 the decision of the appellate court was upheld.

Concurrently with Transparency International’s suit against the ministry of human resources, Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) sued Viktor Orbán’s Academy in Felcsút for the release of all contracts for jobs that were financed by TAO money. Felcsút apparently received about 14 billion TAO forints in the last six years. In July 2016 the Székesfehérvár Court ruled in DK’s favor, but Felcsút Academy had no intention of obliging and appealed. In February 2017 the Budapest Appellate Court also ruled in DK’s favor, but for a different reason from the Székesfehérvár Court. While the lower court considered TAO to be public money, the appellate court based its verdict on the non-profit status of Felcsút Academy. Felcsút Academy was obliged to turn over all documents relating to TAO funds within 15 days. Felcsút Academy again appealed the verdict, and thus the case ended up in the Kúria for a final decision. On November 15 the Kúria ruled that Felcsút must provide details of how they spent the enormous amounts of “public” money. The verdict could have been predicted because a month earlier, in connection with the Transparency International case, the Kúria had already declared TAO funds to be a public resource.

Index described the verdict as “the final and humiliating defeat of Orbán’s football academy.” János Lázár’s reaction a day later amply showed what kind of a country Hungary has become in the last six or seven years. During Lázár’s usual press conference on Thursday, when asked his opinion of the Kúria’s decision, he said: “There is a judge in this country who is very angry with Hungary’s government and Fidesz. His name is András Baka. Because of his changed official status, he has been greatly offended, and for some strange reason all TAO cases end up on his desk. I wouldn’t want to suppose that any bias would have influenced the judge, who on numerous occasions publicly criticized Fidesz and the government.”

Let’s stop here for a moment and go back to 2011, when the Hungarian Supreme Court became the Kúria. The chief justice at the time was András Baka who, prior to his appointment in 2008, had been a judge at the European Court of Justice for Human Rights for 17 years. Although he was considered to be a conservative judge, he became worried about Viktor Orbán’s so-called judicial reforms. He objected, for example, to the forced early retirement of judges, which gave the government a free hand to fill about 300 positions that became vacant as a result of the new law on retirement. Orbán desperately wanted to get rid of Baka and eventually came up with a good excuse. Baka hadn’t been a judge in Hungary for five years. His 17 years with the European Court of Justice were not considered relevant. Baka turned to the European Court of Human Rights and eventually was awarded about 100,000 euros, which naturally the Hungarian government, or to be precise Hungarian taxpayers, had to cough up. Baka couldn’t return to his old post, which had been filled by someone else, but he was reinstated, I’m sure grudgingly, as one of the leading judges in the Kúria.

The Kúria’s answer to Lázár was brief and to the point. They will not comment on politicians’ statements concerning their activities, but the spokesman explained that the assignment of cases is determined a year ahead and given to judges according to their professional specialties.

Unfortunately, I’m not at all sure that this is the end of the story because János Lázár intimated at the press conference that it was time “to make order” as far as TAO is concerned. To make order to me means that they will most likely come up with some modification to the law that would prevent the public from learning where that incredible amount of money has gone.

November 17, 2017

From football to fear: Recent opinion polls in Hungary

Today is devoted to polls. Please don’t worry, the post will not be full of numbers. I will concentrate on the big picture.

My first topic is Hungarians’ feelings for football. I think that talking about football today is especially timely because, as 444.hu’s sportswriter put it yesterday, the Swiss team “walked all over the Hungarians,” whose game was apparently full of “glaring mistakes.” It was only during halftime that the Swiss didn’t score a goal, as he put it sarcastically. Hungarian football is apparently not worth watching, and there is a point when even nationalism isn’t enough to keep interest alive. Just as there comes a time when the lure of a better life outside of the country cannot keep an awful lot of Hungarians at home.

Ever since 2010 an incredible amount of money has been spent on sports and sports facilities in general, but naturally  Viktor Orbán’s favorite sport, football, received the most. 24.hu calculated the amount of money spent between 2011 and 2017 on five sports– football, handball, basketball, water polo, and hockey–from just the so-called TAO offerings. Large companies, in lieu of taxes, can donate money to support one of these five sports, but given Orbán’s penchant for football, half of the 415 billion forints of TAO money went to football clubs. And then there are all those football stadiums, 32 of which will be built by 2020 and will cost 215 billion forints. Yet all that money didn’t improve the quality of Hungarian football, and consequently there are mighty few Hungarian fans at games.

Given the enormous outlays for football, does it serve any useful purpose? We know that the quality of play hasn’t improved and that the number of fans who show up in these new stadiums is small. Republikon Intézet conducted a poll to find out how people feel about Hungarian football. The pollsters asked two questions: (1) How true is the following statement: “I follow Hungarian football and I’m proud of it” and (2) Do you think it is worth investing in sports facilities in Hungary? The result most likely greatly saddened Viktor Orbán: the people are not grateful. Even Fidesz voters are not that proud. More than half of them are decidedly not proud, and they don’t follow the games at all. Only 22% are enthusiastic. And if that is the word from the Fidesz voters, you can imagine what the left-liberals think: 73% of them want nothing to do with the sport. Two-thirds of the Jobbik voters are also left cold by Hungarian football.

When it comes to the stadium-building mania of the prime minister, the figures are not at all encouraging. It seems that Viktor Orbán was able to convince 37% of Fidesz voters that investing in sports facilities is worthwhile, but 27% of them think it’s a waste of money. The majority of Jobbik and socialist-liberal voters disapprove of the incredible spending on stadiums and other sports facilities. What’s amazing is that Orbán, who is normally very sensitive to public opinion, seems to be utterly oblivious to the unpopularity of spending taxpayer money on his personal hobby.

Another poll that aroused my interest was conducted by Medián. The goal was to measure the extent of endangerment Hungarians feel when it comes to the perceived threat from the “migrants,” George Soros, “NGOs financed by foreigners,” the European Union, Russia, and the United States. Respondents were able to choose among five possibilities, ranging from “no threat at all” to “very big threat.” I’m sure that no one will be surprised to hear that 49% of Hungarians absolutely dread the migrants, while only 6% are not afraid of them at all. George Soros is greatly feared by 32% of the respondents. Even the mild-mannered members of NGOs are greatly feared by 17% and somewhat feared by an additional 20% of the population. The amazing finding is how successful the Orbán government has been in convincing Hungarians that Putin’s Russia poses no danger to Hungary. This is especially surprising given the recent Russian annexation of Crimea and Russian military aid to the rebels in the Donbass region of Ukraine. Only 9% of respondents consider Putin’s Russia a serious threat, the same percentage that consider the United States a serious threat.

444.hu, which commissioned the poll from Medián, rightly points out that “the government propaganda is working perfectly because people are afraid of exactly those things Fidesz wants them to be afraid of.” Perhaps the most telling proof of the success of the propaganda campaign is a pair of questions. One is about the threat to Hungary from the European Union and a second, from “Brussels.” Since the European Union is popular among Hungarians and because the Orbán government didn’t want to be too blatantly antagonistic to the EU in its anti-EU campaigns, they used “Brussels” instead of the European Union in their propaganda campaigns. And behold, 37% of the respondents are afraid or very afraid of “Brussels,” while only 25% fear the European Union. This is how effective propaganda is.

As for those feared NGOs, László Földi, one of the three “security experts” used by the state and Fidesz media to frighten the population to death, is ready to do them in. Földi, I’m convinced, is not quite of sound mind. He is a former intelligence officer from the secret service apparatus of the Kádár regime who spreads his outlandish views not just on the refugee question but on Hungary’s security in general. In Földi’s view, the world is full of spies, internal as well as foreign, who are trying to undermine the present government of the country.

Well, a few days ago Földi was the guest of Echo TV, which was purchased recently by Lőrinc Mészáros. Mind you, the change of ownership from Gábor Széles to Mészáros made no difference. The station has been a hub of far-right journalists and commentators all along. The conversation was about Islam in Hungary. In passing, Földi talked about the “migrants” and those civilians who try to help them, specifically the Helsinki Committee and Migration Aid. Földi came out with the following absolutely mind-boggling statement: “We are at war and these people are collaborators, war criminals, traitors, and so on. This is a very different conceptual system. A human trafficker in war is not a human trafficker but in effect a saboteur who has no legal status. In brief, they can be freely liquidated. This is what the code of war says: we don’t take spies or saboteurs to court but we immediately eliminate them.” He is an adviser to István Tarlós, mayor of Budapest. Enough said.

October 8, 2017

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

Hungary actually spends an enormous amount of money on healthcare. It is just a question of definition

This morning I read a comment by a journalist who announced that it is no longer worth listening to the Friday morning radio interviews with the prime minister because by now the reporter can’t ask any questions, even friendly ones, about the political events of the previous week or fortnight. At the last interview not a word was exchanged about the teachers’ strike, and this time the Hungarian National Bank’s foundations proved to be too insignificant to mention. Nonetheless, I managed to find an exchange at the very end of the interview that I believe merits comment.

Orbán outlined all the positive changes his government has been introducing of late that are making the lives of a large number of Hungarians more economically secure. First, the government raised the salaries of the policemen and soldiers. Then, a year later, they increased the salaries of the teachers, although naturally he neglected to say that for the higher wages the teachers had to work longer hours. The next task will be an improvement in the lot of doctors and nurses. Moreover, the government will find money to raise the salaries of people working in the cultural and social spheres– like librarians and social workers. Everything he promised was or soon will be fulfilled, he added triumphantly.

At this point the reporter chimed in, quoting a statement from the State Audit Office that pointed out “great management shortcomings and public procurement anomalies.” Viktor Orbán interpreted these words to mean that there is not enough money being spent on healthcare. (I guess something must have been lost in translation.) He immediately began talking about the amount of money that is being allocated to healthcare which, as we all know, is much less in Hungary than in other countries in the region. But it seems that Orbán has an entirely different definition of healthcare and, therefore, of the amount of money a country allocates to it. Let me quote the most important part of what he had to say here.

My thinking is a bit broader on that topic than the ideas of health experts. Because the budget of healthcare is not really the budget of healthcare but the budget of healing. I don’t mix up healthcare with healing. These two things overlap somewhat, but one of them is bigger than the other. So, we spend more on our health than the sums allocated to healthcare in the budget because in reality these are sums for healing the sick. Sports, daily gym classes, our investments in infrastructure that are necessary for healthy living all serve our health needs. So, in a more comprehensive way of looking at things, we could easily add these items to the healthcare expenses. We don’t calculate that way in Hungary, but I always like to put the budget together this way.

Well, let’s see what all this means in black and white. It is very difficult to find out exactly how much money is allocated to healthcare—healthcare in the commonly accepted sense, not in Viktor Orbán’s definition—because even economists specializing in healthcare issues can’t quite figure out the final amount for 2017, for example. However, according to Bence Rétvári’s announcement, which must be viewed with extreme caution, the Hungarian government will spend 500 billion forints on healthcare in 2017.

Billions for healthful living

Paragon of healthful living

And figuring out the amount of money spent on sports and infrastructure for football stadiums, swimming pools, sport stadiums of all sorts is even more difficult. However, here are a few figures that might give you some idea of the lavish spending on sports-related items. In two years (2012-2013) the government spent 142.6 billion forints on sports of all sorts. In 2014, they spent 168.6 billion. But direct government spending is only a part of the whole sports package because companies can offer billions of forints for different sports, mostly football, which means that yearly at least 50 billion forints never reaches the central budget. This money goes straight to sports clubs, mostly to the Ferenc Puskás Foundation in Felcsút.

A more recent assessment predicts that tax-free gifts for sports will be about 90 billion forints in 2017. This means that since the introduction of the system, more than 400 billion forints has gone straight to sports clubs instead of to the central budget. In addition to the 90 billion forints in “charitable contributions,” it is projected that the government will spend 223 billion forints next year on sports.  Others estimate government expenditure on sports in 2017 to be as high as 400 billion forints. Thus, we are getting close to the amount of money the government ostensibly spends on “healing the sick,” to use Viktor Orbán’s expression.

These figures do not include the construction and renovation of soccer stadiums. Atlatszo.hu estimates that the seven stadiums that have already been completed cost 42.11 billion forints. And this is just the beginning, a very small beginning. Practically peanuts, because in the next three years 32 new stadiums will be built or renovated to the tune of 215 billion forints. Thus, I estimate that the Orbán government actually spends more on sports than on healthcare. I can say only one thing: “A crime against the Hungarian people!”

May 6, 2016

Scandal in the Hungarian Swimming Association

The whole country is in turmoil over a 55-year-old story. Three days ago privatkopo.hu, a blog specializing in true crime stories, discovered that the highly respected coach of the Hungarian national swimming team, the seventy-five-year-old László Kiss, was sentenced in 1961 to five years, later reduced to three years, for participating in the gang rape of a girl known only as Zsuzsanna. She was eighteen. During the summer when the crime was committed, she was studying for her college entrance exams. The judge found that Kiss and two other star swimmers lured Zsuzsanna into the apartment of one of the boys and gang raped her. Privatkopo.hu cited fairly long passages detailing the brutal act committed by the three swimmers. Kiss received amnesty in March 1963, alongside most of the political prisoners who had been in jail since 1957. All in all, he spent twenty months in jail.

Three years after his release Kiss became the swimming coach of the Budai Spartacus Club, to which both boys and girls belonged. For jobs that involve dealing with minors Hungarians need a “certificate of good behavior,” which in the case of former convicts cannot be obtained until five years after their release. Since Kiss received amnesty and since he was such a good swimmer, I assume he received special dispensation. It is a well-known fact that, especially during the Kádár regime, crack athletes had extraordinary privileges. Another possibility is that he was treated well in exchange for information. Some people, including historians, point out that the Ministry of Interior often made recruiting trips to jails in the hope of signing up agents who would be willing to report on their friends and acquaintances. Those athletes and coaches who were allowed to travel abroad were often used for such purposes.

Of course, all this is just guess work, and at the moment we know very little about the details of Kiss’s release. However, one investigative journalist who read the judge’s opinion indicated today to György Bolgár of Klubrádió that Zsuzsanna’s case was not unique in the lives of Kiss and his two fellow rapists. There was another case which the prosecution had to drop in the absence of conclusive proof. He also indicated that he is not finished with his research, alluding to the fact that more details will be available even about the circumstances of release.

This is exactly what Kiss was trying to prevent when he turned to Attila Péterfalvi, president of the Office of National Data Protection and Freedom of Information, who has begun his own investigation into whether any privacy rights have been transgressed so far by reporting on the court case. He asked the media to stop publishing any more details on the case. I doubt that the journalists will heed Péterfalvi’s request, or at least I would be very surprised if they did.

Since the scandal surfaced, the reaction of the Hungarian Swimming Association has ranged from full support of the beleaguered Kiss to less than forthright statements by both the spokesman of the association and its president, Tamás Gyárfás, especially with regard to how much the present leadership of the association knew about Kiss’s background.

This scandal also exposed some of the practices common in the competitive swimming world. Apparently, the association is still governed in a dictatorial manner, just as it was fifty-five years ago. László Kiss, being the top coach, could decide which athletes would attend important international meets that could decide their futures. A coach from Debrecen who is no friend of Kiss claims that the athletes were actually afraid of Kiss and that swimming coaches in general are a pretty savage lot who occasionally use whips to make sure that the swimmer’s posture is perfect.

Here the Hungarian Swimming Association supported Kiss (left) and Tamás Gyárfás / Source: blikk.hu

Kiss (left) and Tamás Gyárfás / Source: blikk.hu

Zsolt Bayer, the anti-Semitic writer for Magyar Hírlap, defends Kiss because “Kiss claims the encounter was consensual” and in any case, even if it were true, it can be forgotten due to the tremendous joy Kiss gave Hungarians by coaching youngsters who eventually became Olympic gold medal winners. Even so, Bayer, who as I learned from this article himself swam, tells terrible stories about life as a serious swimmer, especially if the coach was László Kiss. Then “life was even more horrid than usual.” He still feels the leather strap on his thighs. A similar but much more eloquent description of life in the water was offered by a writer and professor of literature, Noémi Kiss, who as a fourteen-year-old trained with the famed Krisztina Egerszegi. Five years ago she talked about her horrid experiences, about the all-pervasive sexuality that exists around the swimming pool and the girls’ vulnerability in these surroundings.

Kiss has resigned his position as coach of the national team. He is no longer deputy mayor and an honorary citizen of Százhalombatta. His name will be removed from the town’s swimming complex. He had to step down from the Hungarian Olympic Committee and thus will lose his 1 million forint a month compensation.

The public is deeply divided on the issue. There are those who think that Kiss’s life after his conviction was untainted, that no complaints were ever filed about his behavior toward his women athletes. The incident occurred such a long time ago that punishment at this stage is meaningless. Then there are a few, like Bayer and István Stefka, another far-right journalist, who either believe that the “gang rape” was actually consensual or that the girl herself was responsible for her fate. According to Stefka, “At the Császár pool, the girls were sitting in the bleachers watching the training and the beefy boys with great interest.” Often these girls initiated sexual relationships, Stefka claims. Unfortunately, Endre Aczél, a talented and knowledgeable journalist whom I hold in high regard, showed his worst side by accusing Zsuzsanna’s parents of making a victim of their over-sexed daughter. Since then Aczél has apologized and taken down his comment from his Facebook page.

And, of course, there are those on the other side who argue that a crime as heinous as a gang rape cannot be forgiven, regardless of the number of gold medals and the fifty-five years. What I think bothers a lot of people is that Kiss, who even wrote an autobiography, never mentioned the time he spent in jail for rape. They are also bothered by Kiss’s attempts to blame the girl, who by now is not even alive and therefore cannot defend herself and her reputation.

I just heard on HírTV that sexual abuse is far too common in competitive swimming. Just in the United States 100 swim coaches have been banned for life from ever coaching. It might be an interesting undertaking to investigate the possible reasons for the prevalence of sexual crimes in the world of swimming. In Hungary there was already one revelation when Nikolett Szepesi came out with a book about “what’s going on around the pool.” I wouldn’t be surprised if, after the Kiss affair, we heard a lot more.

April 8, 2016

Hungarian attitude toward losing: The Romanian-Hungarian football game

No, just to clarify the title of this post, the Hungarians didn’t really lose (they tied), but since they were so convinced that they would win, they considered the game a loss–and an unfair one at that.

As you all know by now, I don’t care about football and know next to nothing about it. Therefore today’s post is not going to be about the fine points of the match between the Romanian and the Hungarian national teams last night. This was the game that had to be played within closed gates as a punishment by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) for the Hungarian Football Association’s inability to discipline the unruly Hungarian fans whose favorite occupation is chanting antisemitic and in general racist epithets. This behavior is nothing new, but the Hungarian Football Association has never even tried to control the situation. Finally FIFA’s patience ran out. The occasion was a “friendly” meet between the Hungarian and the Israeli teams last August. I detailed the event and in the post embedded a video taken on the scene. In January of this year FIFA fined the Hungarian Football Association 35,000 euros and ordered a closed-gate game between Romania and Hungary. The Hungarians appealed and were turned down. They even attempted to have the case tried in a court that adjudicates controversies within the world of sports, but they were also turned down there.

So, the match took place in an empty stadium and the final score was 2:2. A great disappointment for the Hungarians because they were certain that they would win over the Romanians, whom they considered to be a weak team. I don’t know where this optimism came from because in the last thirty-two years the Hungarians were unable to win a single game against the Romanian national team. But as I said, I’m no expert; I know next to nothing about the strengths and weaknesses of these teams. What I would like to talk about here is the attitude of Hungarian commentators to the tie. I think it may explain a few things about the Hungarian psyche.

The Romanian-Hungarian football game, March 22, 2013In the background the empty seat / nb1.hu / photo Tam'as Sóki

Note the empty seats in the background / nb1.hu, photo Tamás Sikó

I should mention a few facts about the game itself. If I understand it correctly, there were two penalty kicks, one from the Romanian and the other from the Hungarian side. The match went into overtime, and the final Romanian goal was kicked in the ninety-second minute of the game.

Here are some comments from Hungarian sports journalists and the players themselves.

One of the first detailed analyses appeared a few minutes after the match was over. The title is telling: “It was in the ninety-second minute that the Romanians stole two points.”  A few minutes later: “We were unlucky: Instead of victory it is a tie against Romania.” The article itself reports that the Hungarian team played very well, but the Romanians “with fantastic luck in overtime managed to tie the game. It was a fluke!” So, the Hungarians were excellent, the Romanians were incredibly lucky, and the last goal was a fluke.

One of the players, Vilmos Vanczák, who actually scored the first goal, told the journalist of Nemzeti Sport that “we were very close to victory but unfortunately that little plus is still  missing in becoming a really great team.”  He belittled the opponents. He claimed that “we dominated the game all along. The two goals scored against us were the result of inattention. We led all through, but at the end victory slipped from our hands….. I expected a much better Romanian team…. At the next game in Romania we have a chance.” So, they were much better than their opponents but victory somehow eluded them.

The goalie, Gábor Kiráy, blamed the lack of an audience and the chanting of the fans in the stadium. “If we had had an audience, they would have helped us over the tipping point.” Coach Sándor Egervári said: “We lost two points after a game that had been won.” In my opinion, one either wins a game or doesn’t. You can’t have it both ways. Király admitted that he didn’t even see the ball when Alexandru Chipcio scored the final goal of the game. Yet he tried to find excuses: it was windy and the ground was wet. Mind you, the opponents played under exactly the same conditions.

By this afternoon some of the Hungarian players came to the conclusion that neither Romanian goal was legit. Both had been preceded by misconduct. So, the Hungarian team should have won 2:0. Molcsapat.hu intimated that the referee was partial to the Romanians. The journalist talked about the “friendly disposition” of the German Wolfgang Stark that allowed the two Romanian goals.

The Romanians seem to be more generous toward their opponents. Adrian Mutu, who kicked the Romanian penalty goal, was very satisfied. “We must be satisfied with the results because we played against a very good team. … It will be difficult to win against the Hungarians in Bucharest.” HVG wrote that, according to Romanian sports reports, the Romanian national team was very lucky not to lose to the Hungarians. Romanian sports journalists, in fact, sharply criticized Coach Victor Piturca. Gazeta Sporturilor called the last goal “miraculous.”

Perhaps the Romanians were simply lucky, perhaps objectively the Hungarians were the better team. But, on the day, the Hungarians couldn’t pull it off. And that, in sports, is all that counts. That and, oh yes, sportsmanship.

The Hungarians will be going to Istanbul to play against the Turkish national team that just won against Andorra. The general Hungarian attitude toward this game is optimistic. Nemzeti Sport claims that “for the Turks Hungarians will pose the real challenge.” It will be during this game that the true strength of the Turkish team will be tested. On the website readers can vote on what they think the outcome of the game will be. Over 50% of those who voted are certain that the Hungarians will win. And here we go again.