Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is building a football paradise around his home in Felcsút (population 1,789), the village where he grew up about 30 kilometers west of Budapest.
The prime minister’s enthusiasm for the game is legendary in Hungary: he played organized football as a hard-driving forward from the age of eleven, when he joined the local FC Felcsút team, until leaving college and launching his political career with Fidesz in 1988. He rejoined FC Felcsút during his first period as prime minister in 1999, taking the field for the division-two club on occasion until hanging up his cleats permanently at the age of 41 in 2005. Two years later, Orbán founded the Ferenc Puskás Football Academy (Puskás Ferenc Labdarúgó Akadémia), a live-in school offering academic instruction and intensive football training for 50 to 60 talented young Hungarian players on a sprawling complex of fields located right across from his weekend house in the village.
The academy’s team, Puskás Academy FC, (Puskás Akadémia FC), currently competes in division one of the Hungarian national football league against teams from Budapest, Debrecen, Miskolc, Pécs and other big cities in Hungary after receiving promotion from division two at the end of the 2012–2013 season. Felcsút mayor and businessman Lőrinc Mészáros, an Orbán ally who serves as president of the foundation that runs the Ferenc Puskás Football Academy, is having a new, 3.8-billion-forint (12.75-million-euro) stadium built for the team, 70 percent of which he is financing from revenue derived from corporate-tax deductions on donations (source in Hungarian) to five major team sports made possible through a law the Fidesz–Christian Democratic People’s Party-controlled National Assembly passed in 2011 (note 1). The stadium will have seating capacity of 3,500, double the population of the village in which it is being built.
Orbán has two passions in life: politics and football. He is living his political dream right now as the most internally powerful leader of a country in Europe since the fall of communism. In establishing a football academy with a top-flight team and a state-of-the-art stadium right across the street from the house and stretch of land he owns in his home village, he is preparing to live his football dream after the inevitable end of his political career. The prime minister is exploiting his position as the all-powerful leader of Hungary to realize this dream, attracting donations (source in Hungarian) from prosperous companies (list in Hungarian) in order to finance the operations of the Ferenc Puskás Football Academy and, through his local political crony, using money that would otherwise flow into the state treasury to build a UEFA-compatible stadium for the academy’s professional team.
In doing so, Orbán is reflecting his fundamental attitude—one which is nearly universal among autocrats—that the country he leads is his plaything to be used as he sees fit.
1- On June 27, 2011, the National Assembly approved a law that permitted companies to write off up to seventy percent of their corporate taxes in the form of donations to associations conducting activities in one of five team sports—football (soccer), basketball, hockey, handball or water polo.