István Kovács: Welcome to our audience here in the Hungarian House in Rio, and to the Prime Minister of Hungary, Mr. Viktor Orbán.
Good evening to you, too.
The date is special and the venue is special, as this is the eve of our national holiday, and although we are here in Rio, far from Hungary, we are nonetheless on a little Hungarian island. What is your impression of the Hungarian House, and the Olympics so far?
I was a bit nervous about the Hungarian House, because in the past with exhibitions of this type I’ve had more negative experiences than positive ones. The thinking was that we should be present and show ourselves, but then when I’ve visited places like this or heard accounts, my impression has been that we didn’t showcase what we really are in a truly worthy manner. But what I see here now is very different. This is a place … of course we like it because we are Hungarians, we have our music, and gastronomy is also part of our world, and the exhibitions are about our ancestors. But whoever I’ve spoken to – most recently the President of the IOC – and whoever I’ve shown around, they all say that it’s a very long time since they’ve seen as youthfully inventive a building, exhibition and presentation as ours. So I think that – if I remember correctly, young people invented the magic of this whole thing, and it seems that there is plenty of creativity in young Hungarians, and we’ve managed to showcase this well here. So far, so good. The truth is that I have a job to do here, which means that I can’t attend the sports events that I would like to, because I have to meet with one IOC leader or another, or talk to a representative of one country or another. In fact I’m here to gather friends in order for Budapest to win the right to host the 2024 Olympics.
We’ll talk about that bid in a minute, but for the time being let’s stay with the Olympics, because it seems that you saw most of the events on TV. Did that fantastic atmosphere and the fantastic strength that there was in this team also come across on the screen?
As much as could come across and be felt between three and four in the morning – because I went home from work, went to bed, and set the alarm to wake up at half past two or three in the morning. This was particularly to see our swimmers. Under those circumstances you’re happy if in the morning you remember anything that you saw the night before. So I wouldn’t say that the atmosphere came across. But when the events were broadcast again later, it did. So when you watched the events again the next afternoon you could feel, especially at the beginning, that we started well, that the team was very much together, that everyone was supporting everyone else, and that there could even be some results which would exceed our expectations.
A few years ago, say five or six years ago, you described sport as a strategic sector. In this sense, did the expectations which you set for sport bring about the desired results? So is what we’re experiencing now the end result of six years’ work?
I personally feel that sport must be a strategic sector, but more importantly I think that the majority of people in Hungary – in particular parents – agree with this. So this is far from being just my personal hobby and commitment – although that’s also part of it, especially my commitment. Parents agree that sport is a means of education in preparing our children for adult life which has yet to be rivalled. So I think that this is a national cause, and therefore I’m never prepared to engage in a party political debate on sport because, in my view, it stands above every aspect of party politics. We are far from where I would like to see us be. I’ve never denied that, although I wasn’t talented enough as an athlete, I’ve always loved playing sport. I’ve spent a considerable part of my life – perhaps as much as thirty years – in and out of the changing rooms of small clubs; and I know that these small teams and small clubs are the backbone of Hungarian sport. So it is very important how our stars, our heroes, our idols do here, but I always focus on whether there are sound foundations for all this. And I believe that we’re still doing better in top-flight sport than at the bottom. As regards numbers, I wouldn’t like to misquote them, but I seem to remember that in 1990, after the fall of communism, there were some one million registered competitive athletes in Hungary, across all sports and generations.
Where do we stand now?
In 2010, when voters vested their trust in me again, there were 200,000 registered athletes, and the figure now stand at 300,000. So the loss had been very great, we fell into a deep hole, and it will take a long time to rebuild what we once had. But we shall rebuild. When we reach the dream figure of 500,000, the results at the very top will also improve dramatically overnight, even in sports such as football, which we never imagined we could do well in – or at least not for some 30 years.
And this is perhaps all the more important, because if Budapest 2024 becomes a reality, and doesn’t remain a mere dream, it’s all the better that we have a strong line-up in sport. Does the fact that we’re doing this well at the Olympics help in our bid?
It does – a great deal. This is mutually reinforcing: it helps me, it helps us and it helps the Government, because again and again we need arguments when we reveal our plans to the Hungarian public – for example that there should be a 50-metre indoor swimming pool in every county-ranked city. And there are, of course, other areas where money would also be well spent. Spending money on sport is something one must always defend. I think that the results at the Olympics most spectacularly and clearly showcase who we really are in the world. This is where one checks in, where one is ranked, and where one is rated – every Hungarian knows this. This is a sporting event, but in peace-time – when nations are not pitting their strengths against each other in war – sporting events are the best opportunity for nations to be ranked in the arena of talent, skill and physical strength. And Hungary is a player in this arena: we are not stragglers. Participation is important, as we know from the Olympic motto, but we like to have champions. And if I’m not mistaken, we are in the top ten in the all-time medals table for the Summer Olympics – we’re in around eighth position, and as far as I can see our performance this year will not damage this position. So we need arguments. There will be a pool suitable for teaching children how to swim in every regional centre, and as part of a rolling programme we would like to see fencing halls in every regional centre. The promotion of our equestrian culture is making headway, and we would also like shooting ranges in every regional centre. To the extent our skills and the number of coaches permit, we would like to extend every discipline of the classic pentathlon across the whole country. We have some major plans for sport. There is one other thing that constitutes the foundations of competitive sport. We have recently invited a tender for the creation of open-air gymnasia. We have received more than two thousand proposals, and we shall build them all. So I believe that in this modern world, where everything is so confused, where it’s impossible to know exactly what’s wrong and what’s right – or at least it’s very difficult to find an answer to this question, in particular for young people – sport remains an area of clarity. In this area it’s clear what’s right and what’s wrong, what achievement or laziness mean, what training or skipping training mean, what it’s like when one gives one’s all in a contest, and what it’s like when one loses courage and self-belief. So I believe that sport, as an area of clarity and straightforwardness, also has a beneficial effect on education. And likewise I think that daily physical education is important – not only as physical training in itself, but also as an educational tool.
Prime Minister, in such a successful year for sport, it’s perhaps not too difficult to convince the Hungarian public, the sports-loving Hungarian public, why sport is so important for us, but now let’s stay a little…
Fine, but we’re Hungarians, and I think it’s true that we ourselves are the biggest enemies of our own success. We’re a country which is able to argue that its greatest achievements are not so great after all – that in fact they were only accidents. As a colleague of yours said to you, if the pool had been five metres longer, Dániel Gyurta would not have won in London. And we have some self-destructive ability to say the cruellest and most surprising things in order to devalue our own performance. So for this reason what I want to say is that we always need results, and we always need to prove ourselves.
Perhaps this will also change if we host the Olympics, if we have a positive image, if we can experience a positive lifestyle and a positive outlook on life together with hosting the Olympic Games in Hungary. But in order to win the right, we have to prove ourselves not only in Hungary, but also to the members of the IOC, the International Olympic Committee. In relation to the Hungarian bid I don’t know the opinion of Thomas Bach, or in general of the people you’ve met and talked to here at the Olympics.
They’re diplomats, of course, and they’re polite, so everyone says good things about it. This is something, but in international communication that’s how it is. I believe that we showed the world a bid with the right content, at the right time, in the right manner. The community of cities which have been given the chance to host the Olympic Games have almost become an exclusive, aristocratic club, because recently only mega-cities have been chosen. Cities which are not even cities any more, but more like…
Yes, small republics, and this has excluded countries and cities which formerly hosted the Olympic Games: cities similar in size to Budapest. Antwerp had its Olympic Games, Amsterdam had its Olympic Games, so did Helsinki, and even Stockholm. So there are examples of countries and cities of this size being able to cope with the task. But recently the big ones have somehow kept the small ones down. The current President of the IOC, Thomas Bach, and his leadership have announced the beginning of a new approach, and have said that the Olympic Games must be given back to the people. Hosting the Olympics must not be the privilege of such a small circle. We should also let in medium-sized cities with medium-sized budgets. This is why Hamburg also entered the race, although it eventually pulled out. But Budapest is still standing. I believe that the fact that we submitted a bid – and that we may even succeed – is also important for the world’s medium-sized cities, and consequently for the entire Olympic movement.
Thank you for speaking to us Prime Minister. Keep up the good work!