With the start of the Giro d’Italia on Friday in Budapest, Viktor Orban’s Hungary is gathering yet another world sporting event: a strategy of outreach through sport, from a state greedy for competition.
Less than a year after hosting four Euro football matches, Hungary marks another first in Magyar’s history by attracting one of the two biggest cycling competitions in the world. A tradition since the return of the nationalist Viktor Orban to the head of the government in 2010, he was reinforced by a fourth overwhelming victory in the parliamentary elections in early April.
The list of competitions to be hosted in Hungary is long: the Swimming Worlds will return in June at the Duna Arena inaugurated in 2017, already ahead of Worlds that the Danube city is to host again in 2027, a third time in ten years .
In January, the semi-finals and final of the European Championship Men’s Handball were played in the brand new Budapest Arena, which appears on the road between the airport and the historic center.
Next year it will be the turn of the World Athletics Championships to settle in the Hungarian capital and in a new stadium under construction on the eastern bank of the Danube: the National Athletics Center, a 15,000-seat enclosure. increased to 34,000 for the Worlds with temporary stands).
Budapest has also recently hosted two World Judo Championships: last year and before that in 2017 when Russian President Vladimir Putin was Orban’s guest of honor.
– Reconciliation with Putin –
The Hungarian prime minister has since 2010 approached the Moscow strongman, whose inflation he imitated in the organization of competitions, to the expulsion of Russia from world sports since the invasion of Russia. ‘Ukraine.
Even though Hungary, unlike its huge eastern neighbour, has never hosted a World Cup or the Olympics.
Budapest’s candidacy for the 2024 Olympics was withdrawn a few months before the award in 2017 due to the opposition movement Momentum’s “Nolimpia” petition, which had collected more than 266,000 signatures.
Nevertheless, the infrastructure is expanding, in addition to the recent Olympic swimming pool (Duna Arena) and the future athletics stadium. The city also has the fairly recent Budapest Sportarena (2003), which hosted the Final 4 of the Handball Champions League last year, and the majestic Puskas Arena.
– The Olympics, “Eternal Dream” –
Orban did not say goodbye to his Olympic dream in words. In an interview about the Tokyo Games in the sports daily Nemzeti Sport, of which he is a regular columnist, the prime minister assured in August that “every year it becomes more and more clear that Hungary is worthy of welcoming the Olympics.”
“The possibility is gone for now. But hosting the Olympics is a perennial dream for Hungarians. A love that never ends,” the leader ignited in authoritarian style.
“Today sport is a political weapon,” Lukas Aubin, associate researcher at Iris, specializing in the geopolitics of sport and Russia, summarizes to AFP.
“Even if it doesn’t work so much to improve his image abroad, it is a tool to legitimize his authority, to justify the importance of his regime. In Russia, the president’s image is not consolidated abroad, but it worked inside”, supports the researcher, author of the book “La sportokratura sous Vladimir Putin”.
In this country with a weak cycling tradition, a compact crowd gathered in Budapest’s Heroes Square on Wednesday to attend the presentation of the teams. Starring Hungarian Attila Valter, who was the first representative of his country to wear the pink jersey of the Giro last year.