Orbán is more afraid of UEFA than Merkel and Biden combined.
And not just because Merkel is the mother of appeasement.
It is not the first time Orbán’s office has to deny that he made decisions based on football priorities – not policy.
Last week he announced the country’s gradual reopening – on the same day that daily death number broke all previous domestic and world records. The country’s covid death rate hovering above 300 is the equivalent of 9900 covid deaths per day in the US or 2500 in Germany. Per day. Covid only.
What the day was also known for in certain circles is that it was also an UEFA deadline. Hungary had to declare how many people they are willing to host at the UEFA football championship matches in June.
The answer: 100%
Budapest is the only hosting city that promised to organize the matches not only in front of a live audience, but at 100% capacity. Indeed, Orbán’s favorite media product, the national sport (Nemzeti Sport) came out with the following schizophrenic front page the next day:
On the right a confusing announcement is made: “It’s official! Budapest 100%” It is referring to the fact that the other cities didn’t promise full house to the UEFA. And that is is because no one asked them to. So ours is bigger than theirs.
On the left half of the front page, a 2004 Olympic champion’s death is announced. Yes, of covid-19.
Whether it’s true or not, Orbán does have the image of a football junkie who would stop at nothing to get his fix. It is not just that he redirected billions in corporate taxes into football. It’s not that he built a gigantic stadium in his birth village and keeps spending gargantuan sums of public money at it, like every dictator ever. It is as if nothing could make him deprioritize football, not even the threat of something catastrophic.
Right now the opposition is accusing him of forcing the untested Chinese vaccines of dubious efficacy on the population just to justify reopening sooner than advisable. (Orbán started to focus on vaccination rates because the death rate is no longer advisable to bring up.) And even though the opposition may be wrong – the Chinese jabs were a very lucrative deal for the intermediary company that can perfectly explain why Orbán bought them without brining up football – the image of the football junkie just got stronger.
But it is not just football.
Orbán’s most cherished wet dream is bankrupting the country by hosting the Olympics. Indeed, the first crack on his monolithic reign occurred in 2017, when a bunch of kids threatened with a referendum against Orbán’s Olympic wet dream that was estimated to cost 9% of the country’s GDP. Not Budapest’s, the country’s. Not its tax revenues, it’s GDP. And that’s before the traditional overrun of costs and the even more traditional theft of easy money spent on sport events. The water sport championship Orbán’s hungry cronies had to satisfy themselves in 2017 ran up 700% of the estimated costs – and that was only until the games ended. It has never stopped costing us money.
With such a clear signal of his weak spot, Orbán could be easily manipulated. It is hard to imagine that more shrewd powers like Russia would let such a low hanging fruit go unused when it is also so cheap. And football confederations are famously corrupt so it’s not like they could not be convinced to cooperate. At least they would do something useful for once.
So if the free world ever wondered how Orbán could be made to, say, accept the jurisdiction of the European prosecution, forget political appeasement. The answer is football. He is like a junkie with shaking hands who would be sign if his signature gets him his football fix.