Investigation Follows Bitter Failure at Men’s Handball European Championship

While the players’ enthusiasm at the games was far from low, the men’s handball team still dropped out of the 2022 European Men’s Handball Championship that Hungary is co-hosting. Federation president Máté Kocsis announced the suspension of two professionals around the team until investigations close, suggesting that some sort of solution will come. Meanwhile, experts think that problems are deeply-rooted and also some political reforms are badly needed.

Hungary is co-hosting the 2022 European Men’s Handball Championship. Three stadiums were either built or renovated for the tournament: the biggest one, the 20,022-seater, state-of-the-art MVM Dome was put up from scratch and cost roughly HUF 116 billion (EUR 325 million), according to current information . In addition, the national side finished 5th in the last World Championships in Egypt.

Therefore, the team arrived with great hopes to the tournament but went home with sobering bitterness. After losing to the underdog Dutch team in the first round, the team narrowly beat Portugal to be then defeated by Iceland at the group’s decider. This meant that Hungary failed to even “survive” the group stage, despite some having expected the team to reach the semi-final.

Huge state supports, results yet to come

This is certainly an era when sports in Hungary don’t lack funds at all; in fact, the contrary is true. Due to the Fidesz government’s much-debated TAO scheme introduced in 2011, and government supports, players in the Hungarian championships are very well-paid, in addition to the great and ever-improving infrastructure.

Fact

What is TAO?

Hungarian companies may make contributions to qualified sports clubs and federations in lieu of paying part or all of their profit taxes in the budget. Despite the government seeking to depict it otherwise, Hungary’s Supreme Court confirmed that it was a public fund. However, later on, the ruling parties’ majority in Parliament changed the constitution in their favor, so now TAO can hardly be defined as public money anymore, hence the room for transparency and investigations have been reduced.

Ever since the beginning of the TAO scheme, handball received the second most amount of money (after football), equaling HUF 213 billion (EUR 597 million) (only until the 2020/2021 season).

Yet results have been scarce, and while the Hungarian men’s handball team succeeded in Egypt, they failed to qualify for both the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. Also, no Hungarian team has been able to win the Champions League in the last 40 years (although Veszprém qualified for the final four times already, three times only in the last decade). Actually, Pick-Szeged was the only men’s team to have won a trophy over the course of the last 12 years, claiming the EHF Cup in 2014.

Meanwhile, Veszprém, for example, employs only a handful of Hungarian players, and a similar tendency can be observed in other teams, too.

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 ruling Fidesz’s group leader in the Parliament), moved to suspend László Nagy, professional Vice President of MKSZ responsible for the men’s team (the best Hungarian player of recent times), and the professional Vice President of MKSZ responsible for the women’s team, Katalin Pálinger (former Olympic silver medalist, CL-winner goalkeeper) after failures in recent, major tournaments. Kocsis argued that it would be strange if they were evaluating themselves in the internal investigations yet to come.

In response to arguments regarding the circumstances (brand new stadium and all three games of the Hungarian team were sold out) also put pressure on the team. Kocsis criticized that the team chose not to train in the arena before the kick-off to the tournament, and criticized mental preparations, too. However, he also listed a number of statistical figures showing that the Hungarian team couldn’t perform well at all.

“I understand and accept that you can always lose by one goal, that’s sport. Our problem is not even with this tournament, we have to look much further back, to the work that has been done and not done in recent years. We have five years and eight months of work to do to enable 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 about several of the national team’s players not being starters in their clubs, not even in Hungary, “so we maintain a league system in which Hungarian national team players are warming the bench,” he commented, suggesting the need for intervention .

Experts: Reforms needed, large spending questionable

Other experts, however, are critical about the whole system. Swiss Amicitia Zürich’s sports director, Gábor Vass, highlights that the aforementioned TAO income of the Hungarian handball sector is equivalent to five years of German Bundesliga’s full budget. “The difference is that only in the last 10 years Germans won several Champions League titles. Money is important. But just because there is, and just because nothing else matters, there will be no result,” he said criticizing the lack of standards of requirements and the huge salaries that even young players get in Hungary. Meanwhile, youth training’s efficacy is also questionable. “At home it is not the profession that prevails, but politics,” Vass also said.

“It is absolutely true that all three rivals played more modern handball than Hungary. In footwork, speed, dribbling, combinations, and the use of the playing area, they are ahead of us. We didn’t have the combinations, and most of our goals were scored after individual actions, I would venture to say 80%. At team level, we showed less than we did two years ago at the European Championship and last year’s World Cup,” a former national team player, and TV pundit, Attila Borsos said. Borsos also said there is a lack of formulation in handball’s development, highlighting that the National Academy of Handball (NKA), on the receiving end of billions of state support, only “delegated” one player to the Euro: a Serbian national. He also feels there is a lack in terms of Hungary’s handball strategy with “self-deception being one of the most important parts of it.”

featured image: the team after the loss against the Netherlands; via Tamás Kovács/MTI

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