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Editorial: Even Athletes Need a Holiday

Analysis

Photo by Leszek Glasner / Shutterstock.com

Even if it feels like a long time since your holidays, I hope you were able to take some much-needed time off for rest and relaxation and to recharge your batteries. Not that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán seemed to be taking much of a break this summer.

There was what seemed at times like an endless stream of regional right-wing allies he invited as guests during the highly successful World Athletics Championships Budapest hosted over nine days from August 19-27.

Just about the only people busier than the PM were the competitors themselves, as they put on a show to remember at the impressive and purpose-built National Athletics Center on the eastern banks of the Danube River. The atmosphere around the stadium was undoubtedly electric. I was in the fan zone outside for the sprint relay races on the final Saturday evening. The roar that greeted the sound of the starting pistol was remarkable.

According to a November 2020 story posted on thestadiumbusiness.com, documents published by the government showed that HUF 204 billion (EUR 556.5 bln) of public funds had been made available for the center. At the end of January this year, HVG put the cost at HUF 246 bln. But what now? The facility could hold 35,000, according to the worldathletics.org website. The idea is to remove the temporary upper tier and reduce that capacity to 15,000, leaving a space “which can be filled with publicly available leisure areas,” the website says. But what comes down can go back up.

I wasn’t alone in noting that atmosphere. Sebastian Coe, former middle-distance Olympic and European champion and world record holder, former MP for the U.K. Conservative Party, former frontman for the 2012 London Olympic bid, and now the president of the global governing body World Athletics, described it as “electric and addictive.”

He added, “I can’t remember a better atmosphere at a world championships.” Speaking on the final day of the event, Lord Coe also thanked Orbán for his support and noted that more than 95% of tickets had been sold.

“This is a country that has a long-term ambition for sport, and sport that goes way beyond nine days of competition,” Coe said. He described Orbán as “a prime minister that really does get sport, adding, “we couldn’t have a better supporter at a local and national level.”

How Orbán must have enjoyed that. He has long used sport as a political tool in what some critics have likened to a modern-day reimagining of the Roman Empire’s “bread and circuses” approach. Coe wasn’t done yet, however. He called Budapest and Hungary “ambitious,” adding, “I have no reason to doubt they would put up a very credible bid if it was entertained by the International Olympic Committee.”

On the back of the successful 2022 World Aquatics Championships and now the athletics, Hungary is thought to be mulling another tilt at hosting the Summer Olympics, possibly in 2040. In 2013, the country launched a bid for the 2024 games but eventually pulled out in the face of calls for a public referendum that seemed sure to oppose it. Is the dream still alive? It seems unlikely Orbán, a man who “really does get sport,” will have given up on it.

Robin Marshall

Editor-in-chief

P.S. We hope to see many of you at our Back to Business BBJ Sundowner, run in conjunction with the Budapest Marriott Hotel on Thursday, September 14, from 6 p.m. Please register online and come along to welcome in the new business term with us.

This editorial was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of September 8, 2023.

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