Viktor Orbán on football

This morning I read a lengthy interview with Viktor Orbán on the Ferenc Puskás Academy’s website. Several newspapers summarized the prime minister’s thoughts on the state of Hungarian football. The historian Gábor Egry, whom readers of Hungarian Spectrum know from his occasional comments, wrote on Facebook about this interview: “Compulsory reading. Really. Everything one ought to and must know about Orbán.” So, let’s get to it.

By way of background, I should note that Hungarian football in general is very poor and this year was especially so, despite the fact that the prime minister is spending billions and billions of taxpayer money directly or indirectly on his favorite sport. Stadiums are being built and plans are being hatched to make Hungarian football first-rate, as it once was.

Most professional sportswriters claim that there is no way Viktor Orbán’s dream of returning Hungarian football to its former glory will ever be fulfilled. I heard an interview with Iván Hegyi,  editor of Népszabadság‘s sports section, and he convinced me that Viktor Orbán doesn’t understand the realities of professional football today. The interview with the prime minister only confirms Hegyi’s opinion.

Perhaps I should also say a few words about the man who conducted the interview, György Szöllősi, spokesman for the Ferenc Puskás Football Academy. Szöllősi is a supporter of the prime minister’s plans for the future of Hungarian football and most likely shares his convictions. Moreover, just lately he wrote a longish article defending Orbán against the less than kind criticisms of his grandiose plans. In this article he came out with some rather bizarre explanations of why Ferenc Puskás became an excellent player. Not because of his talent but because of the excellent school system established by Kunó Klebelsberg. Anyone who knows anything about Puskás’s early years spent kicking a ball made out of rags on “the grund” should recognize the lunacy of this claim.

Szöllősi gave the following title to the interview: “Football is like gulyás soup.” Gulyás soup? How? Simple. According to Viktor Orbán, the great cook, one always adds to the gulyás soup in a kettle over the open fire. One never takes anything out of it. Mind you, I don’t think that it is immaterial what we put into that soup or, if the soup has been already ruined, whether it is worth adding expensive ingredients to it because it is unlikely that a basically bad soup could be much improved by Viktor Orbán’s methods.

Orbán’s mania for football has completely politicized the sport. By now, I’m sure, a lot of people who heartily dislike Orbán were happy when his favorite team, Videoton, was beaten to a pulp by a third-rate Montenegrian team. Gusztáv Megyesi, the sharp-tongued columnist, admitted that much. And how does Viktor Orbán feel about the total collapse of Hungarian football in spite of his financial efforts? Bad. When he was asked about Videoton, he said “Luckily I didn’t see the second match. I heard about the Waterloo only through an SMS. It was like a shot through the lung. I was still spitting up blood more than a week later.” I’m not going to dwell on the abnormality of such a reaction  from an man who is by now 50 years old.

He knows, of course, that this season’s results reflect badly on him, so he has to explain away the failure as “a temporary setback that should not influence a leader who must concentrate on the essentials, the whole picture.” The overall plan included making Videoton one of the hundred best European teams in 2012-2013. In 2013-2014 they wanted to be among the top fifty and finally in 2014-2015 they were planning to be among the top 32. Well, the 2013-2014 goal is down the drain, but that’s life. He is still very optimistic about the future not only of Videoton but also of all the best clubs in Hungary.

He and his fellow leaders of Hungarian football “are in the process of building a whole system. The system of Hungarian football.” It is the state of Hungarian football as a whole that interests him, not so much the fate of individual clubs. For him “this is a question of honor” because “football has no meaning outside of national honor and national pride.” The aesthetics of the game is important, so is club spirit, but “without the homeland everybody is only a mercenary instead of being a messenger.” His rule is that first comes the club, then the team, and only after that the player.

Orbán has rather peculiar ideas about the players as well. “We look up to the players because they are better than us. Not only are they stronger, faster, more skillful but altogether superior to us” because for “the sacred goal they are able to put aside all individual self-interest.” Sacred goal? A sporting event? And those Olympic champions putting aside all individual ambition? Since when?

About half way through the interview we come to the decision of Orbán’s government to spend billions on football stadiums during hard economic times when about half of the population lives close to or under the poverty line. Critics point out that it is useless to pour money into infrastructure when there is no quality football in the country.

Why is Hungarian football so bad? Orbán naturally has the answer. It is the fault of the European Union because of what is known as the Bosman ruling. The European Court of Justice banned restrictions on foreign European Union players within national leagues and allowed players in the European Union to move to another club at the end of their contract without a transfer fee being paid to the club. Prior to the Bosman ruling, professional clubs in some parts of Europe were able to prevent players from joining a club in another country even if their contracts had expired. Given the free movement of workers within the European Union, this decision shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. But Orbán would like to return to the state of affairs before the Bosman ruling. Unfortunately, Hungarian teams were not doing well even before 1995.

The Bosman ruling, in Orbán’s opinion, made football an economic activity when, in his opinion,  it is a part of culture that needs special regulations. When Orbán talks about football as a part of culture, he doesn’t think of culture as “the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns” but in its narrow sense as “intellectual and artistic activity.” He considers the football player an artist, and therefore “football is closer to culture than to economic enterprise.” Hungarians are just too old fashioned when they don’t want to accept football as a part of culture. They place science and culture above everything else. They have difficulties understanding that football is a part of the culture in the modern world.

Viktor Orbán the artist

Viktor Orbán the artist

Orbán is proud of his fund-raising for Hungarian football. During the interview he boasted about his ability to gather large sums of money from individual donors to build a stadium in Felcsút. He hopes that in the next fifty years there will be prime ministers who will be able to convince people to spend money for this good cause. He wanted to start a tradition and hopes that he will have followers.

But he does not take the exceptionally bad performance of Hungarian football this season lightly. Since he put so much emphasis on the necessity of achieving international success in football, he must consider these losses to be personal defeats. As he said at the beginning of the interview about Videoton’s poor performance, “It was not a shame. It was a failure.” His own failure as well.

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31 comments

  1. Victor Orban has just proudly declared on his favorite radio station that the heroic Hungarian swimmers have just beaten the American 4X100 relay team!

    The result is correct. But, as is usual with the Great Viktor, he has left out some pertinent details: in fact, the Hungarians finished 8th and dead last while the Americans finished 1st….but the yanks were disqualified to last and 8th place, thereby moving the Hungarians up to 7th.

    The Felcsutian Truth strikes again!!

  2. Hungarian domestic football sides might not be doing too well when they come up against external opposition, but the national side has actually been doing better over the last few years. I’m not up to date with the national team’s recent results, but until a year or so ago they were gradually improving and there was every sign of them being able to qualify for the European Cup in the near future, possibly even the World Cup.

    But, rather ironically, given Orbán’s views on the EU and Bosman, this is almost entirely due the fact that the best Hungarian footballers can now play abroad – where they have a much better chance of improving their game than they would have playing in the domestic system.

    As for this idea that Hungary can get back to the days when it was great at football, this fantasy is, like all ‘Hungary was once great’ dreams, based on falsehood. True there was a very brief period when Hungary showed the world how to play football, but that was it.

    That Aranycsapat was based on two things – a radical new approach to playing football (so-called ‘total football’), and the fortunate coming together of a group of extremely talented players. Unfortunately, it didn’t take the rest of the world very long to adopt (and improve on) Hungary’s methods, and of course the talented players all went abroad.

    The ‘greatness’ was all over in a few years. From the humiliation of the English team (then one of the great footballing sides!) in 53 to the failure to beat West Germany in the World Cup Final in 54 was just over 7 months. Even being more generous and taking the golden period from 1950 to the 56 revolution, it lasted less than 6 years.

  3. Ehhez se ért – természetesen. B.

    >________________________________ > From: Hungarian Spectrum >To: suranyiblnt@yahoo.com >Sent: Sunday, August 4, 2013 11:32 PM >Subject: [New post] Viktor Orbán on football > > > > WordPress.com >Eva S. Balogh posted: “This morning I read a lengthy interview with Viktor Orbán on the Ferenc Puskás Academy’s website. Several newspapers summarized the prime minister’s thoughts on the state of Hungarian football. The historian Gábor Egry, whom readers of Hungarian Spectrum ” >

  4. This is about politics and and money, the perfect combination. Voters are actually interested in football even if they don’t attend Hungarian games.

    To be enthusiastic about football is also cool, manly, salt of the earth, the kind of person you wanna be if you want rural voters to support you.

    The people interested in high arts (literature, theatre, regional museums etc.) will not vote for Orban anyway so any money would just go down the drain as far as Orban is concerned, except thata big project like the Museum/Varosliget thing is a fantastic opportunity to steal untold amounts of money (leaving the concrete structures to be financed by future taxpayers, just like the swimming pools and baths in dry alföld towns).

    Also building unnecessary stadiums (for double the price for which the Czech build their stadiums) is further business to Közgép, one of the most important considerations in any government decision.

    At this point it is important to remember that as far as Orban is concerned Simicska is the perfect villain: when people think that Simicska is the owner of Közgép,and hate him for it, people will not think that Közgép might be (most likely) co-owned (in legally tricky ways) with the Orban family. It’s theirs, only hiding in plain sight and nobody daring to say it loud, because legally it would be difficult to prove before the court (remember ÉS’s suit with the members’ meeting of Orban’s investment company in Tokaj, which was only a meeting of the members but not officially a members’ meeting under the Companies Act, so ÉS lost its suit bigtime…).

    Anyway, building is money, so there you go. The football thing, even though the results are abysmal and no amount of money will improve them, will just gear up.

    If a lot of people criticize Orban to spend so much money on it, his answer is always to redouble efforts to do it anyway.

  5. tappach what about Martonyi and Szilard I miss them from the list. They must have substantial travel expenses as well.

    Btw on Blikk I see that VO daughter is going to marry. Have you seen this piece of work?
    http://cink.hu/tokeletes-bazi-vicces-film-keszult-az-orban-eskuvorol-1000686156?fb_action_ids=10151646269262758&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%7B%2210151646269262758%22%3A628370153848532%7D&action_type_map=%7B%2210151646269262758%22%3A%22og.likes%22%7D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D

  6. Feco

    “To be enthusiastic about football is also cool, manly, salt of the earth, the kind of person you wanna be if you want rural voters to support you.”

    You realize that roughly half of the voters are women though?

  7. cheshire cat :

    Feco

    “To be enthusiastic about football is also cool, manly, salt of the earth, the kind of person you wanna be if you want rural voters to support you.”

    You realize that roughly half of the voters are women though?

    A very good point.

  8. I have never understood why anybody would want to play or watch football. I think that football should be banned from the news media and terminated with considerable prejudice.

  9. cheshire cat :
    Feco
    “To be enthusiastic about football is also cool, manly, salt of the earth, the kind of person you wanna be if you want rural voters to support you.”
    You realize that roughly half of the voters are women though?

    … and a lot of women like soccer. They may not go to games that often, but they still are fans. I’m with Feco. This was a campaign speech. The “salt of the earth”, “one of us”, simple fellow again.

    We should tone down the soccer criticism. Slowly the only thing to be proud of, is medals we win here and there. Just see the buzz around the water sports.

    If you want to win the elections you have to look dumber (watch me how to do it).

    Soccer = votes. Be careful.

  10. Mutt, I’m sure a lot of women like football in Hungary, but have you got any specific data about what percentage of them get so enthusiastic about it that it’s worth constantly pouring billions into it? What percentage of them go to bed thinking how great, now my son or daughter can become a professional footballer because Puskas Academy has been founded? Because I have met nobody like that, and I have never seen anything published like that from the women of the chattering classes. In fact watching or playing football seems extraordinarily macho in Hungary.

    Hungarian women are worried more about education, healthcare, children’s welfare and women’s rights, apart from, of course, prices, housing, jobs etc that everybody cares about.

  11. http://www.pfla.hu/?q=news/4151

    This is the original interview in Hungarian, by the way, if anybody is interested.
    What I have been thinking about is, in what position Orban speaks in this interview when he says “we”. The country, the Felcsut team or who? He is the founder of the Academy, but does he own any of it? Is he the president of it, or has he got any responsibilities in it? Who is this “we”?

    Much as we know Orban is obsessed with power, I have always had the feeling that this football academy and making Hungarian football great is more of a personal ambition for him. You can argue whether his plan is realistic or realistically carried out, but the main problem here is that he seems to misuse his power as prime minister (he admitted to it) in fulfilling his dreams, for which he certainly has no legitimacy.

  12. OT

    Dear Éva

    Just found VO’s latest letter and thought you’d be interested in one particularly frightening piece of subconscious honesty from him. Apologies if you’ve already picked this one up ….

    He says “Now we [sic] can get all the EU funds, which the Hungarians may get.” (Ezután minden uniós forráshoz hozzájuthatunk, ami a magyaroknak jár.)

    NOT “Then the Hungarians can get all the EU funds, which we may get.”.

    The mind boggles who WE refers to!

    Full text below:

    Tisztelt Honfitársam!
    Egy minden magyar embert érintő jó hírt szeretnék megosztani Önnel. Az Európai Unió kénytelen megszüntetni a hazánkkal szemben 2004 óta folytatott túlzottdeficit-eljárást. Ezután minden uniós forráshoz hozzájuthatunk, ami a magyaroknak jár. Ez azt jelenti, hogy Magyarország egy fontos csatában győzött.
    Az eljárást azért indították ellenünk, mert az előző kormányok idején hazánk költségvetési hiánya minden évben magasan meghaladta a megengedett szintet. 2010-ben az emberek a változtatás mellett döntöttek. Az Önöktől kapott felhatalmazással rendbe tettük az ország pénzügyeit. Ennek köszönhetően már harmadik éve folyamatosan teljesítjük, sőt túlteljesítjük az előírt feltételeket.
    Az unió most a tények előtt meghajolva végre elismerte a magyar emberek teljesítményét, a magyar válságkezelés eredményességét.
    Ezt a sikert mi, magyarok közösen értük el. Szükség volt hozzá minden egyes magyar ember munkájára, erőfeszítésére, támogatására, és az együtt meghozott áldozatokra.
    Szeretném megköszönni Önnek is, hogy hozzájárult Magyarország győzelméhez.
    Tisztelettel és nagyrabecsüléssel
    Orbán Viktor
    Budapest, 2013. július

  13. We – as in WEktor?

    We – as the royal we, in Latin “pluralis majestatis” is the way a person, usually a ruler, may use a plural personal pronoun to refer to him- or herself, the royal we suggests that the king or queen is something more than a singular person. – here is the answer.

    It’s amazing, really, that they even dare to mention the word “health” in conjunction with soccer. In the best case, there are two dozen who actually doing something resembling motion, the other hundreds or thousands howling and wailing for reason unknown to me, the other millions of coach potatoes filling themselves with beverages – this is what in the hmmm… special mindset of Orbán equals with Hungarian culture while his minion insist, that this is the key of the health of generations to come…

    What a bunch of lowlifes!

    I recommend, that now, as the swimming an the water-polo stole the limelight, they should to fill in all the basins and convert the damned places to soccer fields!
    Then all those shameless swimmers and their kind would learn the lesson: the one and only sanctioned and healthy sport is soccer – whatever the people forced to put up with as a Hungarian substitute for the real thing…

  14. wolfi :
    Totally OT:
    In Ózd Roma did not get enough water:
    http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/ungarische-stadt-stoppt-trotz-hitze-wasserversorgung-fuer-roma-a-914861.html
    Wonder what the media will make out of this!
    For those who can read German – the comments are not nice for Fidesz …
    Now it’s also on the BBC.

    The alleged reason: there are many of them who doesn’t pay their bills for their use of water, and anyway, they using too much of it..!

    As soon as you see the footages become pretty obvious, that mostly they don’t even have running water, never had!

    What bills, you….Fidesz-head???

  15. petofi :
    Victor Orban has just proudly declared on his favorite radio station that the heroic Hungarian swimmers have just beaten the American 4X100 relay team!

    Seems like even with the 10ms mistake the yanks still had more than a second over the field. Oh well.

    As for the Hungarian swim team, I think Hungarians have a lot to be proud of. They have been consistently performing very well and that is a statement to the strong swimming program that exists in the country. It’s rather arrogant for the current set of politicians to be trying to claim credit for this victory.

    First, I’m not a football fan. I’ve been to watch exactly one game and that was in the bundersliga but I’ve no intention of every watching another one. There is no doubt in my mind that the level of football will improve in the country also as a result in this investment in the sport. That said, I’m not suggesting that this will make Hungary a world power in the sport. Professional sports or all high end sports are a pyramid scheme and the broader the base the more players you’ll have that are above the bar. The population of Hungary simply puts it at a disadvantage to produce enough high quality players to have enough depth to compete. Same with swimmers but since it’s more of an individual sport there will be individuals that perform very well.

    Is all this worth the investment in stadiums? Well, some investment is probably warranted.

  16. I must admit that I am not without prejudice when it comes to football. It goes back to my teenage days. As a high school student I joined the fencing club of the Pécs University Athletic Club. Twice a year we all had to report on our academic standing and not terribly surprisingly the fencers always came out on top while the football players at the bottom.

  17. spectator :

    wolfi :
    Totally OT:
    In Ózd Roma did not get enough water:
    http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/ungarische-stadt-stoppt-trotz-hitze-wasserversorgung-fuer-roma-a-914861.html
    Wonder what the media will make out of this!
    For those who can read German – the comments are not nice for Fidesz …
    Now it’s also on the BBC.

    The alleged reason: there are many of them who doesn’t pay their bills for their use of water, and anyway, they using too much of it..!
    As soon as you see the footages become pretty obvious, that mostly they don’t even have running water, never had!
    What bills, you….Fidesz-head???

    They get their water for ‘free’ – e.g. from standpipes in the street.

    And of course most people (not just Hungarians) don’t like to see other people getting something for free, especially poor people.

  18. I think it was you, Eva who did a comparison between Orban and Olli Rehn a few years ago somewhere here? I seem to remember it was about how they are the same age, both played semi-professional football as teenagers, both embarked on a political career at a very young age, both have done some studies at Oxford. Saying that the similarities just emphasize the differences. Eg Rehn actually did a PhD in comparative political economics at Oxford, whereas Orban was offered a 9-month scholarship by Soros, which he opted out after 2-3 months, claiming he is not that interested in theory.

    Now – as we like Finns on here, Martti Ahtisaari for running Hungary anyone? 🙂 – I have had a quick look if Rehn is having a huge stadium built for his football pleasures in his home village… Well, no. But he is still playing when he can, apparently. He also founded a team for the European Commission “All Stars”, which has played in a charity match in Finland against the team of the Finnish parliament. He is a life-long supporter of Manchester United as he talks about that when he makes a speech in Britain to break ice. He was the president of the Finnish football association for a year in 1997, and he offered all the profits on a book that he wrote to the association. That seems all. No stadiums, academies, no hands-on manipulation of the training, let alone resources. No wonder Finns are also as bad at football as Hungary! 😀 Here is a picture.
    http://www.seiska.fi/Viihdeuutiset/Olli-Rehn-paineli-pallon-perassa/1009558

  19. Extrapolating OV’s approaches to other areas where Hungary has not exactly excelled recently, I expect him to come up with some “unorthodox” rules of the game. Perhaps Turul could make some spontaneous suggestion. Alternatively, I hope he will unearth the actual originator of football, a Hungarian no doubt, but prove also that the game was “misunderstood” by people from other nations quite a bit and provide the “traditional Hungarian rules”. I mean, he needs a game-changer…!

  20. Cheshire cat, thank you for reminding me of that comparison. I’m also grateful for the link. Since my Finnish consists of four words: one, two, three, and four, I used Chrome’s translation. And behold, the English translation was perfectly OK. Since Hungarian and Finish as far as grammatical structure goes are very similar one must come to the conclusion that those Hungarians responsible for the translation program did a lousy job!!!! There is no reason that translation from English to Hungarian and vica versus must be as awful as is.

  21. Kirsten, Viktor Orbán talks about football being part of Hungarian culture. If someone says that cricket is a part of English culture or that baseball is part of American culture this person is correct. These sports are. But there is nothing uniquely Hungarian about football.

  22. It should be added that all this emphasis on football also comes at the expense of support for sports that Hungarians actually excel in internationally: swimming and water polo.

    Fortunately, there is a simple and brutally uncontroversial piece of evidence to use in evaluating this spending on football and that will be the success or lack thereof of Hungarians individually and as teams in international competition.

  23. “And those Olympic champions putting aside all individual ambition? Since when?”

    This question perfectly shows your complete ignorance and malignancy.
    You certainly have absolutely no idea about how an Olympic champion’s youth life looks like, and, in general, you seem to think you are a sports expert suddenly as you can use it as an excuse to bash Orbán.
    “Sacred goal” – yes, being an olympic champion or any first-class sportsman requires the individual to almost completely give up on personal life. In turn, (s)he can become a national icon. You don’t even have the faintest idea of what you are talking about.

  24. “Why is Hungarian football so bad? Orbán naturally has the answer. It is the fault of the European Union”

    This is a fully false claim as he never said anything like this. You are falsifying content and misleading those readers of you who cannot speak Hungarian.

  25. Johnny Boy :
    being an olympic champion or any first-class sportsman requires the individual to almost completely give up on personal life. In turn, (s)he can become a national icon. You don’t even have the faintest idea of what you are talking about.

    Then like, Nikolett Szepesi, the horny swimmer champion, you can write a bestselling soft-porn when you retire and become a millionaire. The book’s title is “Me, the sex maniac”. She is writing her second opus, called “Orgasm Olympics”. She also received offers from porn producers.

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