The political reverberations after the Hungarian football fiasco

When soccer/football becomes a political matter, as was pointed out by a Swiss journalist straight from Felcsút, it is not surprising that a spectacular defeat of the Hungarian team will soon be part and parcel of high level politics. This is exactly what has happened. Fidesz politicians have been madly searching for scapegoats in order to avoid pointing the finger at the chief soccer enthusiast of the country, Viktor Orbán. The first victim of the “purge” was the coach, who resigned right on the spot. The second target seems to be Sándor Csányi, president of the Hungarian Football Association (Magyar Labdarugó Szövetség). I assume you know that Sándor Csányi is one of the richest Hungarians and CEO of Hungary’s largest bank, OTP.

Actually, if Viktor Orbán’s minions wanted to find a scapegoat in Sándor Csányi, they didn’t have to worry too much about a possible negative reaction to their attack from the chief. In the last few weeks a noticeable cooling of the friendship between the prime minister and the banker could be observed. The first punch came from Orbán’s side when the prime minister’s faithful chief-of-staff, János Lázár, called Csányi the country’s chief usurer. That got Csányi’s goat, who answered in kind and alluded to Lázár’s questionable role in the monopolization of tobacco products and the licensing of the tobacconist shops. If that weren’t enough, he gave an interview to Olga Kálmán in which he explained all the negative effects of the abnormally high taxes on banks. Even so, a few days later Csányi and Orbán could be seen amiably sitting side by side at some Videoton game.

After the miserable performance of the Hungarian national team, several Fidesz politicians attacked Csányi, making him and the secretary-general of the Association responsible for the state of Hungarian soccer. Perhaps the very first to go on the attack was Máté Kocsis, mayor of District VIII and the man in charge of the growing Fidesz communication team, who announced that the coach’s resignation is not enough. Of course, he meant a purge of the Hungarian Football Association headed by Csányi. He was followed by Tamás Deutsch, a Fidesz original and currently a member of the European Parliament, who in addition to Csányi wanted to summarily fire the secretary-general of the Association. The third person was Zsolt Wintermantel, mayor of Újpest and a member of parliament, who demanded that the whole upper echelon of the Association resign.

Viktor Orbán playing football / ATV

Viktor Orbán playing football / ATV

The reply from Csányi was not long in coming. This morning he gave a press conference in which called Deutsch “a Twitter hussar,” alluding to Deutsch’s fondness for mostly obscene tweets.  Csányi also recalled that when Deutsch was minister of sports in the first Orbán administration he ordered computerized gates for all Hungarian stadiums, which turned out to be useless junk. He suggested that Deutsch try to sell the whole lot and with the proceeds help Hungarian football. As for Máté Kocsis, Csányi didn’t spare words. He claimed that when Kocsis took over the mayoralty of District VIII there were six stadiums while now it has only four. “Such a man should shut up when it comes to soccer. As a spokesman for Fidesz he has so many other opportunities to lie.” As for Wintermantel, Csányi acted as if he didn’t really know his name: “What’s the name of that mayor? Oh, yeah, Wintermantel. He is the one who screams in front of every stadium and before each match. He should learn more about the facts. This is not politics, this is football.”

After all that, it is perhaps not surprising that both Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap “censored” Csányi’s words about Kocsis. Magyar Nemzet  left out the most important part of Csányi’s remarks–about Kocsis’s many opportunities to lie as a Fidesz spokesman. Instead they truncated Csányi’s message to Kocsis: “At the time of regime change there were six football fields in the District VIII. Now there are only four. Therefore go elsewhere to lie in connection with soccer.” Magyar Hírlap completely ignored Csányi’s remarks about the Fidesz politician.

This is what happens when politicians use sports, any kind of sport, for their own political purposes. This is especially true when the prime minister himself is the “guiding light” of soccer, which he claims is a “Hungarian sport.” If the coach is at fault and if the chairman of the Hungarian Football Association should be sacked, what should happen to Viktor Orbán who most likely is involved in even the smallest details of the Hungarian football business? Because he was the one who convinced Csányi to seek the chairmanship and who also made sure that he was elected to the position. And who is the person who outlines in great detail the whole future of the sport in Hungary? Naturally, the prime minister, who gave his longest ever interview to the journalist spokesman of the Puskás Academy. Nothing happens in the sport without his okay.

Meanwhile Ádám Szalai, center forward of the Hungarian team, vented his frustration. Interestingly, his complaints about the state of Hungarian soccer are very similar to what Ferenc Gyurcsány told his fellow MSZP members in Balatonőszöd: we have been lying to ourselves and refusing to see the growing problems. False hopes and promises. Nobody is ready to face the music. Nobody really wants to work hard. The bigwigs, I think Viktor Orbán included, insist on Hungarian coaches when these coaches are no good. No Hungarian player plays in any first- or even second-rate European clubs. He himself used to be considered an excellent football player at home, but when he was picked up by a German team it turned out that he really couldn’t compete with his teammates. He had to relearn how to play the sport. At the age of 25-27 one cannot learn to play soccer. What Hungary needs are foreign coaches who make them work hard and who can produce a new generation of players. The present set is useless. Forget about them.

But then there was the match between the Hungarian Roma top players (válogatott) against the Vatican’s Swiss Guard in July 2010. And you know what? The Gypsies won 8-1. Interestingly enough, we didn’t hear about Viktor Orbán’s sitting there in Felcsút, where the game was played, yelling: “Hajrá Magyarország, hajrá magyarok!  Take a look at the short video. It’s fun.

When I told this story to a friend of mine, she said something the Hungarian government might take to heart. Why not put some effort into organizing soccer clubs in villages where there is a sizable Roma population? Such a program wouldn’t need billions. You need balls, a field, and enthusiasm. It would keep those boys active and success would be a great boost to their egos. After all, Puskás himself started to play on an empty lot somewhere in Újpest. He and his friends didn’t even have decent balls. They made them from rags.

The key to future success most likely lies not in fancy football academies (and certainly not in stadiums) but in having thousands of kids introduced to the game. Playing soccer is not an expensive sport like tennis, skiing, or skating. Lots of poor kids can play it. Just like so many Afro-American kids could easily play basketball, often on abandoned city lots, and eventually some of them became world-famous basketball players.

Meanwhile, it looks as if Viktor Orbán will have to be satisfied with a foreign coach. I just wonder who in the world will take the job.

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24 comments

  1. Eva, In Kovácsvágás, a very small village(max 400 living there) in Zemplén( we happen to be there often) 50% op the population is Roma. The priest managed to make the entire village “crazy” and committed to soccer. Everyone is involved in the football field and playing football. How right you and your friend are!

  2. Ferenc József :

    Eva, In Kovácsvágás, a very small village(max 400 living there) in Zemplén( we happen to be there often) 50% op the population is Roma. The priest managed to make the entire village “crazy” and committed to soccer. Everyone is involved in the football field and playing football. How right you and your friend are!

    She will be happy when I tell her that you liked the idea.

  3. Unfortunately for Our Trainer in Chief, the results of international football games are (generally) dependant on the skills of the players involved. Bullying, threats, corruption and in the last resort, fraud (again generally) doesn’t change that fact.

    But, having said that, Hungary are probably not as bad as that 8-1 suggested, it was just one of those nights. Hungary probably lies in the 15th-25th best country in Europe bracket, which considering the size of the population and the idiots in charge of the game is not *that* bad.
    Puts us on level with the likes of N.Ireland, Austria and Macedonia.

    Problem for Our Trainer in Chief is that to move beyond our present level will require the adoption of concepts which no place in the modern (sic) Hungary-
    Flexibility! Independence of Thought! Self-responsibility!

    He might have to compromise… in the meantime, let’s keep to the tried and tested traditions, Time to sack Csanyi and build another stadium. That should do the trick

  4. Must be something like inherent failure, – something gone haywire during the manufacturing process? – in me, but I fail to see the advantages of soccer as sport (well, presumed we accept the definition) over another – in my opinion – (more civilised) physical activities.

    I keep on hearing, that this is the most popular sport in Hungary, but I have this funny feeling, that it’s all about watching the damn thing, not at all playing it.

    Playing it right is out of the question, obviously.

    Of course, having some willage-vide activity organised around it – see the above post – is great, much better than having a drinking contest, any times, but be honest, how much the soccer contributed to the healthy lifestyle of the average Hungarian during the last couple of decades?

    Aren’t we rather talking about state sponsored entertainment to the masses?

    You know, there were the gladiators with the lions, then the corridas, and here we are in Europe, twenty-two person running around chasing an empty ball, and hundreds or thousands feel it’s their cause, its the question of honour and national pride, while they doing nothing but howling and cheering.

    Aren’t we a little bit overestimating something here?

    A few weeks back I’ve heard a venerable member of the Hungarian parliament insisting, that the investments of the constructing of soccer stadiums contributing to public health!!!

    On what way, please?

    There isn’t even running tracks around on most, so what are we talking about?

    All in all, the whole Hungarian soccer is a bad joke, with Orbán as a Joker on the top.
    Question is, just how long are we intended to play along and pretend, that the emperor has his jerseys on?

  5. Grossly OT, but related by the ‘health’ aspect of the question.

    Recently I’ve spent some time in Hungary – against my free will, mind you, but the bureaucracy won – and first time I have seen the already world famous Hungarian Tobacco Shops, from the outside at least.
    Man…!
    Some of them even managed to get a sign, a bling-bling work of running lights says “open”, in case you’d miss an otherwise dark affair in the twilight. Thankfully it didn’t last long before I managed to leave my homeland.

    And then, during this effort I nearly fainted by shock!

    I happened to go into a shop, open to the public, even toddlers allowed, and there it was, rows and rows of tobacco products, out, openly, to anyone to buy!

    Yes, it was in Budapest, in broad daylight!

    When I came to my senses I even discovered, that the same product can appear twice with different price tag, depending on which shelves they are..! I still don’t smoke, I just curious, you see.

    OK., it was in the airport, but still, isn’t the health of the innocent youngsters (virginity-test anyone?) was the main argument when this utterly stupid law with those blacked out shop windows traded craft?
    Or the health of those who going to leave the country doesn’t matter anymore?

    Actually I’ve asked the different pricing, and I was told, that if your destination within the EU, you’re supposed to pay taxes, otherwise you are not.

    Hungarian Taxfree as owe know it…

  6. In many ways Bartus is right but I think that there is still a very real dogfight going on between Orbán and Csányi. We don’t know exactly what the underlying causes are but they exist. At least I think so. From the Csányi interview with Olga Kálmán a few weeks ago it is clear that Csányi doesn’t approve of Orbán’s economic policies. And that’s enough for Orbán.

  7. spectator:”You know, there were the gladiators with the lions, then the corridas, and here we are in Europe, twenty-two person running around chasing an empty ball, and hundreds or thousands feel it’s their cause, its the question of honour and national pride, while they doing nothing but howling and cheering.”

    Just like politics. Except that in that case millions howl and cheer for mostly empty politicians running around and full of HOT air. Especially true for FIDESZ.

  8. gdfxx :
    spectator:”You know, there were the gladiators with the lions, then the corridas, and here we are in Europe, twenty-two person running around chasing an empty ball, and hundreds or thousands feel it’s their cause, its the question of honour and national pride, while they doing nothing but howling and cheering.”
    Just like politics. Except that in that case millions howl and cheer for mostly empty politicians running around and full of HOT air. Especially true for FIDESZ.

    Right on!
    But it doesn’t make it any better, does it?
    In my opinion it’s absolutely waste of time and money – and the FREE air.

    However, as long as it isn’t something what supposed to be “part of our national identity” – excuse me?? – or “one of the driving force of our economy” (the other was the dentistry at the time if I remember correct) or any of these “National BullShit” kind of programs for billions, I wouldn’t mind if the PM or any other person spend their free time on- and around the soccer fields.
    But when against all reason and common sense Hungary engaged in such delusional nonsense again instead of taking care of things what really matters – I just can’t stand it.
    It hurts even if I have nothing to do with it, sorry.

  9. Eva S. Balogh :
    In many ways Bartus is right but I think that there is still a very real dogfight going on between Orbán and Csányi. We don’t know exactly what the underlying causes are but they exist. At least I think so. From the Csányi interview with Olga Kálmán a few weeks ago it is clear that Csányi doesn’t approve of Orbán’s economic policies. And that’s enough for Orbán.

    Actually I wouldn’t mind if Csány and Orbán would change roles for once, we all would be better off I’m sure about it. It’s quite obvious that only one person would fit as the chairman of the MLSZ, and that is Orbán: he loves soccer and just can not lose, ever, while Csányi rather good with the economy and successfully leads and directs multinational business since ages, not to mention his sizeable wealth which may ensure that he don’t need much more to take from us.
    Well, I figured all this out rather nicely, only small part of the plan need some tweaking: make these two guys agree, and we’ll be all happy ever after…

  10. Sick and sad. And if you add the daily news of Pester Lloyd you want to throw up. Even Mainka’s newspapers gained some distance to Orbán’s regime.

    Soon I’ll “have” to go to Budapest again to celebrate my girlfriend’s father’s 100th birthday. That will probably be the last time I go there voluntarily – unless I have to for other family reasons.

    But to be honest, I am sick and tired of this country which I once loved that much.

    Only what I can watch on ATV (or listen to on Klubradió) – and get translated – shows me that there are a few persons left whom it might be worthwhile fighting for – on a personal level.

    But a critical mass they are not.

    As not only I am aging, I guess many of us won’t see a new Hungary in our livetime – or what’s left of it.

    Cheer up. There are other countries, too! There were several peoples migrations in the last 1200 years. They must have had a reason. And perhaps the EU is able to finally come up with some sensible migration regulations.

  11. @spectator: “Csányi rather good with the economy and successfully leads and directs multinational business since ages, “..
    Well, Csanyi being a successful businessman… not really. Successful oligarch, yes, businessman, no. No doubt he was good at getting in a high managerial position still under the communists and then turn that position to his advantage at the change of the regime.. Managing an international business.. that’s a different question. OTP would be nothing without significant assistance from international business management companies advising OTP in the 90s, helping out out the highest level, really. Csanyi was also good at building his own personal wealth… how much is that due to genuine business skills and how much to being good at playing in Hungary’s muddy, corrupt waters is another question.

  12. Csányi knows a lot. And I mean a lot. About Fidesz and about Fidesz people all over Hungary and their deals. Weather it’s Deutsch or Lázár or Rogán or Orbán’s dad (ie, Orbán himself). He has been at the top of Hungary’s biggest bank for over 20 years and financed all sorts of transactions which smart entrepreneurs, politicians did not want to get or could not get financed with a rigid foreign-owned bank. Not that OTP enters into any business, but it is more flexible because it can estimate risk better, because it is better informed.

    In addition, OTP’s various boards and the management are full of people who tend to be well-informed, if you know what I mean.

    Plus, Csányi himself has a nation-wide network of helpers, who also tend to be well-informed. Csányi’s private passion (favorite investment) is agriculture and there is a lot of land he controls all over Hungary. He has a lot of business connections, suppliers, customers. There are people who call his attention to a good deal. Believe me, these people like to gossip about local issues. It’s a status to be friendly, or even to work for Mr. Csányi. It’s a badge of distinction in the provinces.

    So, In fact, there is nobody who is as well informed about Fidesz (and MSZP, yes) then Csányi is. I think his giant safe is thick with folders.

    He is simple untouchable and he can do absolutely anything, although he probably does not want to get into catfights all the time and knows he can lose a lot of money. A political mess is never good for business. He is too smart to know where the limits are, beyond which risk cannot be estimated. But himself, he cannot be touched.

  13. Szappanyos, good post. There is one person who is probably as well informed as Csányi abotu Fidesz and MSZP, and that is Pintér, who essentially appointed himself Interior Minister in 1998 and can’t be shifted, one strongly suspects because of what he knows about Fidesz.

  14. HiBOM. I agree in part. But it is very important that Orbán does not really trust anybody else. He trusts Pintér (lot of joint businesses of course). And the police and the related departments are too messy to control, it would be difficult to control them in a way Pintér controls the police now. Pintér’s influence is huge and even if he was sacked he would still have a strong influence on the police administration.

  15. I just watched an abbreviated version of the Szalai speech on Nemzeti Sport online and it’s pretty devastating. Most interesting is that it is featured on the MLSz’s homepage and on their You Tube Channel. In talking to some football fan friends of mine, it seems that their biggest frustration with Hungarian football is that the media and commentators have been making the team seem greater than it really is, and according to one friend of mine, this has become really significant in the past three years in particular in the state-owned media and in media friendly to the present government. So I wonder if Szalai’s statement is in effect just to tell certain persons in government to stop making the team greater than it really is and stop making Hungarians believe unrealistic things about their national side.

  16. “As a spokesman for Fidesz he has so many other opportunities to lie.”

    Not exactly what you expect to hear in today’s Hungary!

    “As not only I am aging, I guess many of us won’t see a new Hungary in our livetime – or what’s left of it.”

    I am ‘only’ 60, but even I fear I will not see an end to this nightmare in my lifetime.

    I am bringing my kids up to be proud of both their countries, but which Hungary do I teach them about – the one I knew 12 years ago, the one I’d like to see, or the horrible reality? How do you teach your kids to be proud of a people who allowed themselves to be hoodwinked into voting to commit suicide, and, even when they realised what they’d done, still did nothing about it?

  17. As for football – although we are not as good at it as we like to imagine, in England it truly is the national sport. Not only do hundreds of thousands go to watch a game every week (and millions watch on TV), but football is played everywhere – Sunday League sides, school teams, non-league clubs, women’s teams. You can’t go to any sports field anywhere at the weekend without seeing at least one football match in progress, often several. Is that true in Hungary? If it is, then it’s happening out of sight.

    But the Roma idea is a good one. Football, like boxing, is traditionally one of the few escape routes for poor kids. And of course, it’s such a simple game, at its basic level, that it can be played almost anywhere, with no more equipment than a ball. In the UK we have a phrase for such football – “jumpers as goalposts” – which immediately brings back nostalgic memories from most men’s childhood. Can the same be said of most Hungarian men?

    I suspect that football is very far from being Hungary’s national sport – it just happens to be the sport that Orbán likes – and likes to think he can play.

    (Good choice of picture, by the way, Éva – sums it all up nicely!)

  18. An :
    @spectator: “Csányi rather good with the economy and successfully leads and directs multinational business since ages, “..
    Well, Csanyi being a successful businessman… not really. Successful oligarch, yes, businessman, no. No doubt he was good at getting in a high managerial position still under the communists and then turn that position to his advantage at the change of the regime.. Managing an international business.. that’s a different question. OTP would be nothing without significant assistance from international business management companies advising OTP in the 90s, helping out out the highest level, really. Csanyi was also good at building his own personal wealth… how much is that due to genuine business skills and how much to being good at playing in Hungary’s muddy, corrupt waters is another question.

    With all due respect An, that’s exactly what managers do, if they doing it right.
    Knowing who are the best and using their skills – instead of doing everything themselves.

    A certain PM comes to mind, who personally controls just about everything, from the Opera to the floods and everything in-between – a far cry from being professional.
    Funny enough, though, that I think precisely those skills would make Csány a significantly better PM than Orbán, what you mentioned above in a slightly connotative manner, what I have no problem, whatsoever. One more reason to discuss things, I guess.

    There is a significant difference in my opinion between the real oligarch and the newly breed “proligarch” (my invention, based on the derogatory Hungarian term ‘proli’ combined with ‘oligarch’) flock: the latter has no experience of real wealth, still hungry, and there is nothing to stop them when they smell the money.
    That’s what we can see around Orbán, called for unknown reason “elite”, and they are the ones hanging on for dear life with Viktor to the very end, – otherwise they’ll back to what they were a few years ago.

  19. @spectator: There are different types of “successful” managers and my point is that Csanyi is not a western type of successful entrepreneur. More like its Eastern brother, who was at the right spot at the right time (in the 80s, which meanshe should have been a good party loyal at that time) and was able to manage Hungary’s murky waters on the top since then.

    I have some insights on him as a manager from a friend who worked for him.. of course no one likes the boss, but he didn’t come across as a terribly apt manager when it comes to running a business. I think his success is more attributable to his skills of navigating politics, connections, and corruption in Hungary. Certainly an accomplishment, and you can make a case how it is a useful skill for a politician, but this is not the type of leader I would like to see as PM.

  20. Thanks for the insight An!
    Please, remember, what I’ve recommended is the change of roles – both of them would fit better to each-others – but haven’t recommended Csányi for the post per se.

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