State financing of football clubs

By special request, today I’m going to look at the generous contributions made by the government and state companies to sports establishments, mostly football clubs.

Let’s start with the proposition that Viktor Orbán is, if not a de jure autocrat, definitely a de facto one in the sense of someone “who has undisputed influence or power” (Webster’s) or who is “a domineering or dictatorial person” (Collins English Dictionary). He built up unlimited power within his own party and through his party’s overwhelming majority in parliament unlimited power within the country. This power will not last forever, but for the time being it remains the case.

Even within his innermost circle the final word is always his. László Kövér might have opposed the nomination of Pál Schmitt to be president, but he was nominated. Mihály Varga most likely would prefer serious negotiations with the IMF, but he is being vetoed by Viktor Orbán. We don’t know what Rózsa Hoffmann actually thinks about the nationalization of schools, but I’m almost certain that the instructions come from Viktor Orbán himself. The cockeyed idea about learning foreign languages also comes from Orbán’s personal convictions, which he is carrying out within his own family. An autocrat can simply translate his personal wishes and ideas into legislative action. There is no one to stand in his way. His obsequious followers rush to please him. Eventually, this unlimited power distorts the workings of the entire government and can lead the country into an abyss.

An autocrat looks upon the country he governs as his personal domain, which he can shape according to his own vision. Moreover, he can make the country his personal playground. A place where he can foist upon the country not only his vision of the world but also his hobbies. Thus, if he is a man whose passion in life–besides intrigue–is football, then billions can be spent on pleasing the autocrat. The expenses incurred to advance this hobby are mostly covered by public funds, even as the country’s economic situation is truly dire.

The nationalization mania reaches even football. Ferencváros (Fradi), whose fans are the worst football hooligans around and who also played a part in the attack on the public television station on September 17, 2006, was purchased by the Hungarian government for 5 billion forints. In addition, the government allocated 10 billion to build a new clubhouse and a new stadium. To top it off, Gábor Kubatov, party director of Fidesz, was named the new chairman of Ferencváros in February of 2011. But that’s not all. The investigative journalists at learned that the state-owned company Szerencsejáték Zrt., which runs the state lottery operations, generously gave 100 million forints in 2011 and just lately another 250 million to the club! And I suspect that there were other occasions when Fradi received large sums of money because it is a well-known fact that Ferencváros had a history of serious financial problems. In those days there was no unlimited help coming from the Hungarian state.

An even more peculiar arrangement exists with Viktor Orbán’s favorite team, Videoton. The team, under different names, dates back to the 1940s. Since I know nothing about football, I will simply list Videoton’s accomplishments. It has been playing in the Hungarian League since last year and has already won one Hungarian League title, one Hungarian Cup title, three Hungarian League Cup titles, and two Hungarian Super Cup titles. It all sounds rather grand, but when I read that “Videoton is best known in Europe for reaching the UEFA Cup final in 1985,” I started having my doubts.

It seems that Videoton has had financial problems throughout its history and that the club changed hands several times in the last decade or so.  The current owner, István Garancsi, purchased the club in 2007 when it was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Garancsi managed to inject 180 million, but Videoton owed 1 billion forints. Eventually, he managed to settle with some of the players.

A couple of weeks ago a brief news item appeared in one of the Hungarian papers about a generous gift from the Hungarian government to Videoton to build seven new football fields, two of which have artificial turf. However, the club needed to match the grant with 500,000 forints of its own, which it seems it didn’t have. At this point Puskás Akadémia made an outright gift of half a million forints to the football club.

György Bolgár subsequently had a conversation with the spokesman of the academy and found out that Videoton and Puskás Akadémia are intimately linked–though just how is not yet clear. According to the spokesman, in the last four or five years the two entities have been working closely together. The academy not only trains players for Videoton; the financial and legal ties between the two organizations are blurred. The spokesman had no idea whether this half a million forint gift came from the 2.5 billion received from the government (the tax-free gifts) or from the private purse of the foundation, which Orbán himself established with some of his own money. (Of course, it’s since “grow’d” like Topsy.)

All in all, I wouldn’t be surprised if Viktor Orbán turns out to be in one way or another part owner of Videoton. The whole thing sounds fishy. Perhaps Orbán, who didn’t quite make it as a football player, now wants to be the owner of a football team. With the Hungarian treasury behind him, he can satisfy his dreams. His son already plays for Videoton, mind you only second string. Perhaps eventually he can fulfill his father’s dreams and daddy can cheer him on from the owner’s box.

By: Hungarian Spectrum

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