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Olympic culture war

August 29th, 2016

In their overall assessment of the Rio Olympic Games, Hungarian pundits interpret the performance of Hungarian athletes and the importance of sports in highly ideological and overly politicized terms. 

Magyar Narancs finds it a gross exaggeration to claim that Hungary was particularly successful, overall, at the Rio Games. The left-liberal weekly recalls that the eight gold medals were won in three sports, while Hungarian athletes were not very successful in any other events. Considering that the government has doubled the sport budget, Hungary was actually no more successful than it was four years ago, Magyar Narancs contends. In an aside, the paper suggests that if Hungary hosts the 2024 Games, the government will use the opportunity to fill the pockets of entrepreneurs allied to it  with lucrative contracts.

The Rio achievements are likely to encourage further spending on sport, Gábor Lambert writes in Figyelő. Lambert also fears that sport is becoming a major symbolic issue in Hungarian politics. If success at the Olympic Games and Hungary’s bid for the 2024 Olympics become an ultimate concern, politicians will start to outbid each other and call for even more spending, even if this would reduce resources available for other, more important social causes, Lambert warns.

In 168 Óra, Dóra Ónody-Molnár thinks that Hungary’s sporting successes help the government veil the inefficiency of other sectors, including education and the job market. The achievement of Hungarian sportspersons suggests to voters that Hungary is a successful country, the liberal commentator believes. Ónody-Molnár also finds it absurd to suggest, as PM Orbán did, that the gold medals won are the success of the country as a whole, rather than the individual merit of the athletes.

A country’s achievements should be assessed by the level of education, wellbeing, productivity and life expectancy rather than sporting victories, Miklós Hargitai writes in Népszabadság. The left-wing columnist thinks that most Hungarians would happily exchange the Rio gold medals for less corruption.

Writing in the same daily, Sándor Révész remarks that Hungary’s ranking in the medal table is worse than it was four years ago. The liberal analyst adds that three of the gold medals were won by Katinka Hosszú who trained outside the Hungarian state sports system. This, Révész claims, is an indication that Hungarian sports are less  competitive than ever before.

Olympic victories are big fat lies, Róbert Puzsér comments in Magyar Nemzet. Puzsér thinks that Hungarian gold medals do not improve Hungary’s image in the world one iota. He also fears that sports are being subsidised at the expense of science and the arts.

In Népszava, Marianna Biró finds PM Orbán’s words on the distribution of Hungarian gold medals offensive. Mr Orbán said that “there is something wrong with us, Hungarian men” since 7 of the 8 gold medals were won by female athletes. The left-wing commentator interprets his words as an indication that the Prime Minister values male achievements higher than those of women. Biró speculates that PM Orbán is concerned that the victory of female athletes may weaken male domination in Hungary. She adds that rather than bothering with the gender of gold medallists, the government should focus more on reducing sexual violence.

In an ironic piece in Magyar Nemzet, Albert Gazda wonders what would have happened if most gold medallists were males, and PM Orbán suggested that there was something wrong with women. The centrist columnist suggests that it is totally absurd to interpret Viktor Orbán’s words as male chauvinism.

In Magyar Idők, Attila Ballai finds it weird that left-wing and liberal Hungarians do not seem to share the national joy and pride over Hungarian victories in Rio. In order to preserve the country’s Olympic record, the pro-government analyst calls for continued public funding of sport.

Sport cannot be separated from politics, Péter Tamáska writes in Magyar Hírlap. The conservative historian recalls that sport competitions have been regarded as national rivalries from ancient times, through the 1936 Berlin Olympics to the present day. He suggests that the Left wants to downplay the importance of sport achievements as a result of its inability to understand national belonging and the value of patriotism. In conclusion, Tamáska suggests that the opportunity to host the 2024 Olympic games would be a timely ‘compensation’ for the 1920 Trianon Treaty which dismembered Hungary.

In the same daily, Ervin Nagy finds it nauseating that some left-wing politicians try to boost their popularity through celebrating Hungarian gold medallists. The pro-government columnist accuses the Left of constantly criticizing the Orbán government for increasing sports funding, but at the same time, they also like to pose with successful sportsmen.

In a separate piece, Emil Ludwig thinks that the success of Hungarian athletes in Rio drives left-wing liberals mad. The Rio Olympics is a huge blow for those critics of the government who suggested that it is a waste to spend more on sports, the conservative commentator claims.