The Orban government spent billions on Hungarian football clubs in Serbia, Romania and Slovakia
The Hungarian government is financially supporting soccer wherever it can: new stadiums are being built across the country. Besides professional soccer, there is a huge amount of money spent on junior teams and training the new generations of soccer players as well. The most famous of the soccer academy is in the home village of Viktor Orbán, in Felcsút. That academy received more than 20 billion Hungarian forints (approximately €62 million at today’s exchange rate) from taxpayer funds – in the form of corporate taxes directed towards it. This soccer mania did not stop at the borders of Hungary: construction of stadiums and soccer academies have started in the past few years in neighboring countries in territories where ethnic Hungarians live. Hungary has spent several billions of forints on these academies across the border since then. However, it has not been clear until now, how this money is being spent by the soccer clubs and academies in neighboring countries. We acquired and processed all the contracts relating to the Hungarian state support to these football clubs, and we are publishing them now. In this first part of our investigative series, we present how 16 billion Hungarian forints (approximately €49.5 million) were given to clubs in Slovakia, Romania, and Serbia.
According to the data we collected, 16 billion Hungarian forints (approximately €49.5 million) from taxpayer funds were directed to territories where ethnic Hungarians live in Slovakia, Romania (Transylvania) and Serbia (Vojvodina). The money was channeled through the Hungarian Football Federation (MLSZ, Magyar Labdarúgó Szövetség) and the Bethlen Gábor Fund (BGA), a state instrument of financial aid to ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries.
The money, according to documents acquired by Atlatszo, was used to build four stadiums, more than fifteen soccer fields and four additional buildings.
We acquired the documents after filing freedom of information requests with both MLSZ and BGA. The Football Federation sent us hard copies of the documents while BGA allowed us to inspect relevant contracts. We scanned the documents we received from MLSZ and are publishing them here.
Support for soccer teams in Transylvania, Romania
The Hungarian government began financing ethnic Hungarian sports clubs outside the country’s borders in 2013. This was the time when Zoltán Szondy, the chairman of FK Csíkszereda sent a request to Hungary’s department of national affairs working inside the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice. He was asking for support to establish a soccer academy in Szeklerland.
Five years later, this September, a story was published on the website of the Puskás Ferenc Football Academy (PFLA) in Felcsút. The story starts with a photo, in which PFLA chairman Lőrinc Mészáros, deputy minister for sports Tünde Szabó and Zoltán Szondy are cutting a ribbon with the Hungarian national colors. The headline: The Csíkszereda academy was ceremonially opened.
The story went on to explain that Szondy made a speech and thanked the government of Hungary, his supporters and his friends in Felcsút because ‘this complex was created based on friendships.’ The story also adds that the project was partly financed by the Department of National Policy, through the Bethlen Gábor Fund.
In the past few months, we have visited BGA Zrt. several times to learn how exactly they are supporting soccer clubs outside Hungary. We learned that BGA gave FK Csíkszereda 1.33 billion Hungarian forints (approximately €4 million) for the academy’s dormitory and the viewing area that can seat a thousand people. BGA also gave 480 million forints (approximately €1.49 million) for the two soccer fields and for operating costs.
But it was not only BGA that financed the project. MLSZ gave 1.82 billion forints (approximately €5.6 million) for three additional soccer fields and operating costs. The total from BGA and MLSZ is 3.63 billion forints (approximately €11.2 million). However, the club had one more sponsor, the state-owned Hungarian national lottery company.
There is another club in Transylvania that received Hungarian taxpayer money: Sepsi OSK, a club in Sepsiszentgyörgy that plays in the Romanian premier league also got 2 billion forints (approximately €6.19 million) in the past few years.
The Romanian company that operates Sepsi OSK is connected to Károly Varga, a former business partner of Lőrinc Mészáros. The majority, 51 percent of the company called Sepsi OSK SA is owned by HODUT ROM SRL, a subsidiary of Hungarian Hódút Kft, a construction company specializing in road construction.
The minority owner of Sepsi OSK SA is the sports club Asociata Club Sportiv Sepsi OSK. The ultimate beneficial owner of Hódút in Hungary is Károly Varga, who used to co-own two companies with Mészáros, chairman of the Felcsút football academy.
The two billion forints were sent to Sepsiszentgyörgy in two installments and they were earmarked for the youth academy of the football club, for a new office building, for new training fields and for a new stadium that seats seven thousand spectators. The construction of the latter has not started yet. The area looks like this at the moment:
The connection between Lőrinc Mészáros and the Sepsiszentgyörgy club is proven by the fact that the plans for the stadium and the soccer fields were designed by Hungarian company Fejér Tervező és Mérnökiroda Kft. – a subsidiary of Fejér-B.Á.L. Zrt., a company owned by Mészáros’s children and making 3300 euros of profits a day by winning public tenders.
The stadium in Sepsiszentgyörgy that seats 4000 people has recently been renewed, which means that the new, 7000-people stadium will be the second in the town. Some sources suggest that the Hungarian government is supporting the new stadium because the old one is owned by the Romanian state. The documents also reveal that the new stadium is going to be built on land owned by Hódút’s Romanian subsidiary. The company is renting out the land to its own subsidiary, the one that is receiving Hungarian government support.
Support for football clubs in Southern Slovakia
In Southern Slovakia, there are three football clubs that have in total received 6 billion Hungarian forints (approximately €18.6 million) from the government of Hungary.
‘Yes, we call each other by our first names. We have known each other since 1990 when we both started out as liberal politicians’ – this is what Oszkár Világi, owner of the football club DAC said of Viktor Orban in a panel discussion in September. Világi is one of the most influential businessmen in Slovakia: he is the CEO of the oil refinery Slovnaft, he is a member of the board of Hungarian oil company MOL and he has stakes in several food industry businesses.
Világi bought FC DAC of Dunajská Streda in 2014. This is a historic club that plays in the Slovakian premier league; it finished third in the last season. Right after he bought the club, Világi announced that he is planning to build a new stadium and that he also wants to establish a football academy.
Since then, FC DAC has received 2.4 billion forints (approximately €7.42 million) from the government of Hungary. In the meantime, the academy has also been established: it covers 18 hectares, it has ten soccer fields (two of them heated), and it has a medical room and a fitness center as well.
Komáromi FC, a club in Komárno that plays in the second division has also received money from the government of Hungary. Attila Czíria, mayoral candidate of the Party of Hungarian Coalition and Híd/Most in 2014 told Atlatszo that during the campaign he was asked by prime minister Orban how he could help Komárom and the region.
‘I told him about the school for agriculture that the county was putting up for sale at the time, and said that it would be great to buy that and create a strong Hungarian high school for agriculture, because there are no such schools and because Komárom was situated in the middle of the agricultural region. (…) Viktor Orbán said, what about a new stadium? I said, why not, if there is enough money left for it besides the other developments.’
Since then, Komáromi FC has been given nearly two billion Hungarian forints from Hungarian taxpayer funds. According to the documents, 1.8 billion forints (approximately €5.57 million) were given for the reconstruction of the old stadium and 140 million forints (approximately €433 thousand) were given for the operations of the Révkomárom Sports Academy.
Even though the contract about the reconstruction of the Komárno stadium has been signed by the Hungarian Football Federation and the Hungarian Ministry of Human Resources in December 2017, work has not started at the site. The reason for this is that the money was given to the football club but the stadium is owned by the municipality. In order not to lose the money, the football club asked the town to be able to rent the stadium for 20 years. After a lengthy debate, the town decided to approve the 20-year-rent at the end of this year.
There was one more club in Slovakia that received Hungarian taxpayer money. The official Hungarian government journal announced in the summer of 2017 that the sports club of Diósgyőr, DVTK, is going to receive 10 billion Hungarian forints (approximately €31 million), out of which 1.5 billion (approximately €4.64 million) may be spent in establishing a football academy in Southern Slovakia.
Both geography and the good relationship between the two towns suggested that the academy could be built in Rimavská Sobota (Rimaszombat), Slovakia.
Officials of DVTK and Rimavská Sobota first talked about the planned cooperation in 2018, and they were planning to reconstruct the old stadium and build a few new training fields. However, the project is being delayed and might not happen after all: the academy became politically controversial recently, and stakeholders were unable to agree on even the most important questions.
Even though local councilmen in Rimavská Sobota have already voted for the academy several times, nothing concrete has been done yet because the mayor has expressed serious doubts about the project. One of the questions is whether the money promised for the establishment of the academy actually exists: the mayor suspects that there is no money actually and that the promise of the academy is a scam. An ethnically Slovak councilman expressed fears that the plan for the academy is a plan to ‘Hungarianize’ the town.
Football support to Vojvodina, Northern Serbia
The government of Hungary has sent 4.5 billion forints (approximately €14 million) to sports clubs in Vojvodina until now. The money was channeled through MLSZ and was given to FK TSC in the town of Topola. It is thought that there is only one person in Vojvodina who has the ear of the Hungarian prime minister, and that is János Zsemberi, a billionaire businessman from Topola.
Zsemberi has no official role in the Hungarian soccer support program in Northern Serbia, but he is undoubtedly a key figure in the process. He is the main sponsor and the former chairman of the Topola club. He is also coordinator for the football academy under construction.
FK TSC first got 3 billion forints (approximately €9.4 million) from MLSZ, then another 1.5 billion (approximately €4.6 million). They were allowed to spend the money on building the football academy and its fields and the reconstruction of the local stadium. Operation costs of the academy are also included in this sum.
The dormitory of the academy has recently been opened by Orban. However, reconstruction of the stadium has not started yet, but plans suggest that when finished, it will seat 3500-4000 people.
Drone video of the newly built soccer facilities
We traveled 2400 kilometers in November to visit the Csíkszereda, Sepsiszentgyörgy, Dunaszerdahely and Topolya construction sites, where new facilities have been or are being constructed using Hungarian state subsidies.
Text: Babett Oroszi – Photos and videos: Gergely Pápai — Data visualization: Bence Mikola
Additional reporting by Zoltán Sipos (Romania), Titanilla Bőd (Slovakia), Virág Gyurkovics (Serbia)
Translated by Anita Kőműves
The next story in our series will explore Hungarian taxpayer money helping soccer clubs in Ukraine, Slovenia and Croatia. This article is a part of a research supported by the IJ4EU grant. The IJ4EU fund is not responsible for the content and any use made out of it.