Sports, and especially football, has always been a key area of interest for the Orbán administration. Last Friday, 22 December, the Hungarian sports daily Nemzeti Sport published a ‘year-in-review’ style interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, focusing on sports, after a press conference the PM held the day before in which he looked back on 2023 in general.
2023 was a great year for the men’s football National Team.
Not only did they manage to qualify for their third consecutive European Championship in a row, securing a spot at Euro 2024 in Germany, but they also did so without losing a single game. They won five of their qualifying matches while tying three; and also won and tied one friendly game each.
Despite that, PM Orbán is not quite willing to go as far as Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ) Chairman Sándor Csányi, who has claimed that the National Team has to advance from their group featuring hosts Germany, Switzerland, and Scotland. The Prime Minister, on the other hand, is of the opinion that it is an ‘open group’; and we have to wait and see how the games go, as a lucky fluke or an unfortunate mishap can make or break games at this level. He referred to the own goal scored in the 97th minute by Bulgaria against Hungary, which made our team’s qualification certain, as an example.
Still, it is undeniable that the people of Hungary loved their football team this year. Getting a ticket to one of their games was quite a challenge due to the high demand. On this matter, PM Orbán had this to say:
‘The biggest mistake I made in the last 10 years was in football: we should have built a national stadium with 90,000 seats, not 64,000. We did not have enough confidence in ourselves, which is a mistake.’
PM Orbán also mentioned 23-year-old National Team captain Dominik Szoboszlai, who was signed by Liverpool for €70 million this summer. Orbán believes Szoboszlai has ‘put himself at the front of the pack’ even at Liverpool: he immediately became a leader even in one of the world’s biggest clubs.
As for the Paris Olympics next year, the Prime Minister has expressed some worries. As he put it, he does not see how can the last generation, retired after the Tokyo games, be replaced in rowing and swimming by athletes of similar caliber by the summer. And he believes these sports have the greatest impact on the final medal tally of the Hungarian delegation.
The ‘evergreen’ topic of Budapest hosting the Olympics has also come up. Viktor Orbán said:
‘The time has come when Budapest cannot further develop to any great degree without hosting Olympics.
The development level of Budapest is already up to 160 per cent of the EU standard, while there are cities in Hungary which are only at 50 per cent. All money must flow to these underdeveloped regions. So, Budapest can only expect government investments of great magnitude if it is willing to give something that is important to every Hungarian.’
PM Orbán has also lauded the fact that the International Judo Federation and FINA World Aquatics decided to relocate their respective headquarters to Budapest, Hungary this year; and informed all that the construction of the MotoGP ring in Hajdúnánás is still in the plans of his administration.
Marco Rossi Also Evaluates This Year
In the same issue, Hungarian Men’s National Team head coach Marco Rossi also talked to Nemzeti Sport, sharing his opinions of how 2023 shaped out to be.
When asked about the most memorable games of the year, he picked the 3–0 victory against Bulgaria at home, which kicked off the qualification campaign; then the two victories over Serbia, home and away. The interviewer expressed his surprise that he did not include the road game against Bulgaria, which Hungary tied 2–2 in the 97th minute and thus secured the qualification for Euro 2024. However, Rossi claimed that he was under so much pressure in those moments leading up to the equalizing goal that he ‘would not wish that feeling on anyone’.
He also shared that he is planning on visiting Szoboszlai at Liverpool sometime next year, to learn some tricks from a world class coach like Jürgen Klopp, currently managing the Reds.