Hungary’s Ferencváros Sports Club (FTC) and the government backs tourism commissioner Gusztáv Bienerth to replace Tamás Gyárfás as head of the Hungarian Swimming Federation. It seems as though government party Fidesz is pulling strings for putting its own man in the presidential seat but the situation is actually more complex than that, Alfahír reports.
Announcing his interest in the job recently, Mr Bienerth said he enjoyed the support of FTC, which is headed by Fidesz party director Gabor Kubatov. In the meantime, Hungarian media has been publishing articles saying that Mr Gyárfás might not step down so easily, for example, today’s Blikk says that the resigned president is now campaigning for re-election, calling coaches on the phone, making deals with them and rallying their support.
It may as well be true, although, considering Blikk’s earlier articles on the topic, it might just be nothing but a deception. To understand why it could be a possible scenario, we need to get back to Gusztáv Bienerth.
[box type=”info”] Hungarian daily Nemzeti Sport presented the candidate like this: Gusztáv Bienerth (61) obtained his law degree at ELTE University, then studied at Harvard in Boston. He was the CEO of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Budapest office, president of AmCham Hungary as well as chairman of UNICEF National Committee Hungary and Roland Berger Hungary. Both in 2002 and this year, he headed the teams that conducted feasibility studies on hosting the Olympic Games in Budapest; as the Hungarian Football Federation’s international director he had a key role in the negotiations between the Hungarian Football Federation, Puskás’ heirs and FIFA to establish FIFA’s Puskas Award; and, as the senior consultant of IMG London, he contributed to the pre-construction works of FTC’s new stadium. He was a member of FIFA’s Legal Committee and UEFA’s HatTrick Committee as well as the board of the Hungarian Handball Federation. He is also a member of FTC’s board, deputy chairman of Budapest 2024 Olympic Bid, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary as well as government commissioner for tourism. And now he is an official candidate for the presidential seat of the Hungarian Swimming Federation. (Nemzeti sport)[/box]
Beyond any doubt, Mr Bienerth has connections to the government parties. Even under the first Fidesz government, his company PricewaterhouseCoopers was assigned to preparing a feasibility study on hosting the 2012 Olympics in Budapest. (Many business professionals found it amusing that he made people address him as chief executive officer even though he was the managing director of a limited liability company. This title was used in media articles of the time, too.) The Ministry for Sports, headed by Tamás Deutsch, paid 390 million HUF for the 1500-page study.
Back in 2011, Mr Bienerth served a brief term as president of Árpád Habony’s Nézőpont Foundation (that is part of the reason why the entire Habony media portfolio began to hype him after he announced his candidacy), while in 2013 his International Management Group Ltd was hired to prepare a study on the new FTC stadium which only existed as a plan at the time. Atlatszo.hu’s article reveals that the 49-page study was mostly copy-pasted from the Internet but the government still paid 24 million HUF for it. The construction of the FTC stadium was run as a key government project from 2012 and supervised by Balázs Fürjes whose role is quite important in the network to be presented below.
Mr Bienerth has been working for the Ministry of National Development as the government’s commissioner for tourism since April this year. Just a few months before his appointment, he participated in a confidential meeting summoned by cabinet minister Antal Rogán to discuss the future of the tourism and hospitality sector. Besides Mr Bienerth, the meeting was attended by Ráhel Orbán, the Prime Minister’s daughter and producer Andrew G. Vajna, the government’s commissioner in charge of the film industry. After the meeting, Mr Bienerth said he saw nothing wrong in the fact that the representatives of the greatest tourism and hospitality organizations were not invited to this meeting while Mr Vajna and the PM’s daughter were.
Mr Bienerth’s position in the Ministry of National Development is quite interesting, considering that Minister Miklós Seszták was presented recently by the media as a candidate to succeed Tamas Gyárfás. (However, this version was published by Blikk, adding that Gyárfás might not be so easy to remove from his office. The same daily paper still keeps running articles on the former president’s vigorous re-election campaign. Alfahír was told that none of the tabloid paper’s information was true.
Alfahir was also informed that the Ministry wanted to get rid of Mr Bienerth who had failed to live up to the expectations as a commissioner – so now he could get the swimming federation’s presidential seat as a consolation prize.
Mr Bienerth was of course given a key role in conducting Budapest’s bid for the 2024 Olympics as a member of the Olympic Patrons Board and deputy chairman of the Budapest 2024 Olympic Bid committee. (The government’s commissioner for the 2024 Olympic bid is: Balázs Fürjes.) The feasibility study was once again made by PricewaterhouseCoopers for another 480 million HUF, then they raked in another sum of 280 million HUF for filling out a questionnaire based on their own study so that they could resell the same package to the Ministry of National Development for another 240 million.
Mr Bienerth did not just lie idly by under the Socialist governments in office after the fall of the first Orban government, either. He was appointed as international director of the Hungarian Football Federation headed at the time by István Kisteleki, whose Socialist affiliations were well-known. According to a 2010 article by weekly Magyar Narancs, Mr Bienerth had a key role in remedying the diplomatic fiasco committed by Mr Kisteleki who had supported Lennart Johansson’s candidacy for UEFA president against the future winner Michel Platini. While Mr Bienerth got his position in the football federation, Mr Kisteleki appointed Tibor Veres, the owner of Wallis Corporation, a company widely considered as the Socialists’ pet business and formerly managed by ex-PM Gordon Bajnai, as the head of the federation’s advisory council. Mr Kisteleki also invited Sandor Scheer, the CEO of Wallis’ daughter company Market Epito to join the federation as a board member.
From then on, the Football Federation was practically run by the Scheer-Bienerth-Veres-Kisteleki quartet. (Nominated by Mr Kisteleki’s federation in 2010, Mr Bienerth was appointed to FIFA’s Legal Committee for a five-year term, a position from which he was recalled early by current federation president Sandor Csanyi’s new board.
Mr Kisteleki’s HR decisions were preceded by a failed Euro bid: federation leaders took it for granted that Hungary was going to host the 2012 European Football Championship but our bid eventually got no votes at all in April 2007. The bid preparation process was supervised by Tamás Gyárfás.
After this blunder, Mr Kisteleki fired Mr Gyárfás’ bid prep team but the relationship between the football federation and the businessman remained quite close: they concluded a multi-million deal with Gyárfás’ paper. Their relations date back to more than a decade: after the scandal in 1996, Mr Gyárfás managed to keep his seat as head of the swimming federation with the help of Mr Kisteleki, who was representing key aquatic sponsor Arena at the time.
After the change of government in 2010, Fidesz beheaded nearly the entire Hungarian sports leadership and began to take over the positions. The most drastic changes were implemented in the football federation where Mr Kisteleki was replaced by Sándor Csányi while most of the key clubs were grabbed by a Fidesz potentate each.
However, some people soon found their way in the new system as well.
This is the point where FTC’s stadium and Balázs Fürjes come into the picture again. The stadium’s former 6+2-hectare site had been the target of several investment groups for decades (from OTP through Wallis to various foreign stooges) since the old arena lay on the site’s most precious part at the corner of Könyves Kálmán Boulevard and Ulloi Road. Some sources claim this real estate speculation had something to do with FTC’s financial bleeding and exclusion from the top division by Mr Kisteleki’s federation. After a decade of struggles, Fidesz finally settled the matter: the government bought the site back from Scottish investor Kevin McCabe (de facto from pro-Socialist businessman András Szász), built a new stadium on the less prestigious part while the more valuable section will soon be the home of the new gigantic Telekom office building. FTC’s 13.5-bn-HUF Groupama Arena was built by the formerly Wallis-owned Market Corp, and the same company got the assignment to raise the 50-bn-HUF office building, too. Just a side note: the company had since been bought by István Garancsi, PM Viktor Orbán’s friend.
Alfahír.hu wrote above, the government’s official in charge of the project was Balázs Fürjes. Mr Fürjes began his career in Fidesz at the age of 18; he was involved in the foundation of the party’s youth organization called Fidelitas, worked as a cabinet chief for Tamás Deutsch in the first Orbán government and then became a government commissioner. The 2002 fall of the government brought a huge change for him, too: he went to work in the business sector. Where else could he have been employed than Wallis, which was managed by Gordon Bajnai at the time, and where he worked until his second appointment as government commissioner in 2011? So his role as the manager of FTC’s Groupama Arena construction project entailed that the Wallis daughter company run by Sándor Scheer was given the job of implementing it.
Just to complete the picture, yet another member of the old team showed up: in 2015, Gusztáv Bienerth was appointed as a member of the board in Gábor Kubatov’s FTC football club (a fact that went unnoticed by the media) and now he is running for Mr Gyárfás’ empty seat as a candidate nominated by FTC.
By the way, Mr Bienerth was a board member at the Hungarian Handball Federation as well. He was elected for a 4-year term but the federation’s general assembly called him back from the board within 2 years, which is quite a rare phenomenon in the lives of sports federations. The actual reason for the recall is unknown; the official explanation was that the federation no longer had confidence in him.
Katinka Hosszú and many other famous swimmers had to struggle long and hard so that Tamás Gyárfás could be removed from his office.
In an interview for pro-government Origo, Gusztáv Bienerth said:
“I was contacted by many people who were familiar with my professional career. They said I am exactly the type of leader that is needed in this Federation right now.”
Considering the above, these contacts must have mostly come from the government and certain business spheres.
The only question is: is this really the kind of change Katinka Hosszú and the other swimmers wished for or is there a candidate with a cleaner past for president of the swimming federation?