The Pancho Aréna in the village of Felscút, where Viktor Orbán spent much of his childhood. Photo Wikimedia Commons
Hungarian government spokesperson Zoltán Kovács insists that healthcare and education that are thought to be dwindling are being funded “in parallel” with stadium infrastructure.
Mere metres from, Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán’s holiday home in Felscút stands the Pancho Aréna, a football stadium that is part of a major infrastructure development scheme involving football stadiums throughout Hungary in the lead up to the 2020 UEFA European Championships. While an estimated 250 billion Forints (almost €803 million) are being spent on this project, much of the general public feel that their education and healthcare sectors are being neglected.
“In general, they want to spend their tax money on other, more important things, and it’s almost always the healthcare.” stated a football stadium photographer, wishing to remain anonymous. He spends much of his free time, alongside his studies at university, engaging in photography at football matches, primarily in the city of Debrecen.
“The younger generation, aged 20-35, want [government funds] spent on education,” the photographer added.
Billions of Forints are being invested into developing Hungary’s football stadia. Support for the stadiums, from football clubs, goes as far down as the third tier of the Hungarian football league system.
A New National Stadium
A stadium currently under construction, that could arguably be referred to as the jewel in this project’s crown, is the new Ferenc Puskás Stadium, which is set to replace the smaller existing stadium in Budapest of the same name. It is expected to be completed in 2019 to the tune of an estimated 90-100 billion Forints (around €300 million), in time to play a part in hosting matches of the 2020 UEFA European Championships. Its planned capacity for football matches is 68,000, over three times larger than the current largest stadium in Hungary which is the 22,000-capacity Groupama Arena, which only opened in 2014. Prime Minister Orbán’s ambition to make Hungary a country of stadiums could not be clearer.
However, a major criticism of this plan stems from statistics showing that Hungarian football fanfare is not as widespread and prominent as Prime Minister Orbán seems to believe; according to online publication worldfootball.net, the average attendance figure for the 2017-18 Nemzeti Bajnokság I, the top division of Hungarian football, is just 2,569.
Another Point of View
Despite acknowledging the controversy surrounding the plan, the stadium photographer declared a different personal perspective, which originates from attending football matches regularly.
“The stadiums in Hungary are very damaged, and some are even dangerous to go into. For example, the old Hidegkuti Nándor Stadion and the one in Szombathely,” he said.
“But the residents here can’t see this problem, because now it’s a very political problem. The new stadiums are the symbol of Fidesz.”
The Hidegkuti Nándor Stadion, another stadium in Budapest, was demolished in 2015 and replaced with a new stadium of the same name, which opened in October 2016. The Haladás Sportkomplexum in Szombathely took the place of the Rohonci Út as the home stadium of football club Szombathelyi Haladás upon opening in November 2017. The costs of each stadium’s construction? 7.26 billion (€23 million) and 15.2 billion (€49 million) Forints respectively.
Making Up for Lost Time
Government spokesperson Zoltán Kovács stated that the scheme is an attempt to “close the gap, and catch up with almost three or four decades that have been lost [on soccer].”
Kovács went on to say that the aim of improving the condition of football stadiums throughout Hungary “is just a small chunk” of public spending.
“We have a systematic program of building and renovating small gyms and swimming pools at as many schools as possible.
“So this is an overall effort in the country to spend lots of money on reinvigorating, refurbishing and building sporting infrastructure.”
In November 2011, the European Union granted Hungary permission to contribute €60 million annually towards sporting infrastructure.
In response to claims that healthcare and education are being pulled to the wayside as a result of the scheme, Kovács referred to such an allegation as “a lie on behalf of the opposition.”
“In parallel, together with our investors in sports, we have invested hundreds of billions of Forints into healthcare and education.
“We have given back 600 billion Forints to the healthcare system. Before 2010, that was the sum that was extracted from the healthcare system by the previous socialist and liberal governments. We have given that back.”
As for Hungary’s education sector, the government spokesperson declared that the education system needed an overhaul.
“Back in 2010 we inherited a system in which only 46% of the required costs were provided by the government to local municipalities who were running the schools,” Kovács explained.
“So that’s why we have taken schools back into state hands, and we are providing the full financing.”
A 2017 study by the Health Consumer Powerhouse in which the organization calculated 31 European countries’ Euro Health Consumer Index (EHCI) ranked Hungary in a tied 29th with Poland, with long waiting lists being cited as one of the Hungarian system’s worst problems. However, the study states that “there is no correlation between accessibility to healthcare and money spent.”