While player enthusiasm at the games was far from low, the men’s handball team was eliminated from the 2022 European Men’s Handball Championship, which Hungary is co-hosting. Federation President Máté Kocsis announced the suspension of two professionals in the team pending the investigation, suggesting some sort of solution is on the way. Meanwhile, experts say the problems are deeply rooted and some policy reforms are also urgently needed.
Hungary is a co-host of the 2022 European Men’s Handball Championship. Three stadiums were either built or renovated for the tournament: the largest, the state-of-the-art 20,022-seat MVM Dome, was built from the ground up and cost around HUF 116 billion (EUR 325 million), according to current information. . In addition, the national team finished 5th at the last World Cup in Egypt.
So the team entered the tournament with high hopes, but went home with sobering bitterness. After losing to underdogs Netherlands in the first round, the team narrowly beat Portugal, only to be defeated by Iceland in the group decider. This meant that Hungary didn’t even ‘survive’ the group stage, although some had expected the team to reach the semi-finals.
Huge government support, results pending
This is certainly an era when sport in Hungary is not short of money at all; in fact the opposite is true. Due to the Fidesz government’s much-discussed TAO program introduced in 2011 and state support, the players of the Hungarian Championships are very well paid in addition to the great and constantly improving infrastructure.
What is TAO?
Hungarian companies can make contributions to qualifying sports clubs and federations instead of paying part or all of profit taxes in the budget. Although the government tried to present it differently, the Supreme Court of Hungary confirmed that it was a public fund. Later, however, the majority of ruling parties in Parliament amended the constitution in their favor, so that TAO can now hardly be defined as public money, reducing the scope for transparency and investigation.
Since the start of the TAO program, handball has received the second highest sum of money (after football) with HUF 213 billion (EUR 597 million) (until the 2020/2021 season only).
But results were sparse and although the Hungarian men’s handball team was successful in Egypt, they failed to qualify for either the 2016 or 2020 Olympic Games. Furthermore, no Hungarian team has been able to win the Champions League in the last 40 years (although Veszprém has already qualified for the final four times, three times in just the last ten years). In fact, Pick-Szeged was the only men’s team to win a trophy over the course of the last 12 years, winning the EHF Cup in 2014.
Veszprém, for example, now only employs a handful of Hungarian players, and a similar trend can be observed at other teams.
Handball Fed President Kocsis: Two suspensions (for now)
While many have suggested that the failure is also the responsibility of the President of the Hungarian Handball Federation (MKSZ), Máté Kocsis (who is also the leader of the Fidesz faction in Parliament) requested the suspension of László Nagy, the MKSZ’s responsible professional vice-president for the men’s team (the best Hungarian player in recent times) and MKSZ professional vice-president in charge of the women’s team, Katalin Pálinger (former Olympic silver medalist, CL winning goalkeeper) after failures in the last major tournaments. Kocsis argued that it would be odd if they evaluated themselves in the internal investigations still to come.
Pressure was also put on the team in response to disputes over the circumstances (brand new stadium and all three Hungarian team games were sold out). Kocsis criticized that the team did not train in the arena before the tournament kicked off and also criticized the mental preparation. However, he also listed some statistical figures showing that the Hungarian team could not do well at all.
“I understand and accept that you can always lose by a goal, that’s sport. Our problem is not even this tournament, we have to go back much further, to the work that has been done and not done in recent years. We have five years and eight months of work ahead of us for Hungary to host the European Men’s Handball Championship for adults for the first time. That’s a lot of time.”
He also expressed criticism that several national team players are not in the starting XI at their clubs, not even in Hungary, “so we maintain a league system where Hungarian internationals warm the bench,” he commented, suggesting the need for intervention .
Experts: need for reform, high expenditure questionable
However, other experts are critical of the overall system. The sports director of Swiss Amicitia Zurich, Gábor Vass, highlights that the above TAO revenues of the Hungarian handball sector correspond to five years of the full budget of the German Bundesliga. “The difference is that the Germans have only won several Champions League titles in the last 10 years. Money is important. But just because it is and just because nothing else matters, there will be no result,” he said, criticizing the lack of requirements and the high salaries even young players receive in Hungary. The effectiveness of youth training is also questionable. “At home, it’s not about work, it’s about politics,” said Vass.
“It is absolutely true that all three rivals played more modern handball than Hungary. They are ahead of us in footwork, speed, dribbling, combinations and use of the court. We didn’t have the combinations and most of our goals came from individual actions, dare I say 80%. At team level we showed less than two years ago at the European Championships and last year’s World Cup,” said Attila Borsos, former international and TV expert said. Borsos also said there was a lack of wording in the development of handball, stressing that the National Academy of Handball (NKA), which received billions in state support, only “delegated” one player to the euro: a Serbian citizen. He also sees a flaw in Hungarian handball strategy as “self-deception is one of the most important parts of it”.
Featured image: The team after the loss to the Netherlands; via Tamás Kovács/MTI