Sport in Hungary – What do Hungarians excel at and what are their favourites?
Hungary is a country with a rich and diverse culture that mixes its own distinctive folk traditions with influences from abroad and modern technology. Music, literary works, ceramics, embroidery, and other arts are big in the country.
The Hungarian culture also shines through in its architecture and cuisine, which, while sharing similarities to neighbouring European nations, has many unique distinctions that make it stand out.
One thing that Hungary shares with many other countries is its love for sport. Of course, the most popular one is football, but you won’t have to search far to find fans of athletics, table tennis, golf, and kayaking. Here’s a closer look at the types of sport you can expect to find when in Hungary.
Like in many countries in Europe, football is by far the biggest and most popular sport in Hungary. At an international level, the nation has finished as runners up in the FIFA World Cup on two occasions, the first in 1938 and the second in 1954. Their highest finish in the European Championship was third place in 1964. Hungary’s biggest success has come in the football events in the Summer Olympic Games, winning three gold medals, a silver, and a bronze.
Domestically, Hungary operates a pyramid-shaped league system that’s found in most of Europe. At the top, is the Nemzeti Bajnokság I (National Championship 1) which is currently known as the OTP Bank Liga thanks to a sponsorship deal with the financial institution. It contains 12 teams and is currently ranked 29th by UEFA, ahead of other big footballing nations like Poland.
While Hungary has a lot of homegrown talent competing in Nemzeti Bajnokság I, many talented players head abroad to compete in leagues like the English Premier League, Serie A, and Bundesliga. For example, Ákos Ónodi is a goalkeeper for Aston Villa, while Dominik Szoboszlai is a midfielder for RB Leipzig.
Esports are a relative newcomer to the global sporting landscape, with most people only paying attention to them in the last couple of years. These are competitions that pit individuals or teams of video game players against each other in titles like Call of Duty, Formula 1, Hearthstone, and Fortnite. Like other sports, events are shown on TV and online streams, athletes have become celebrities, and the winners receive prize money that’s regularly in the hundreds of millions of dollars. With more people watching esports each year, these prizes are likely to keep growing too.
Being a country with a love of friendly competition and new technologies, Hungarians have been quick to get involved in esports. An NGO called E-sportmilla was founded in 2013 with the intention of getting one million Hungarians into esports. The organization is making steady progress, with around 200,000 currently taking part in competitions.
Hungary was the first country within the former Eastern Bloc nations to welcome the Formula 1 paddock for a Grand Prix. The Hungaroring was constructed in Mogyoród, just outside of Budapest in 1985, with the first race taking place the following year. With construction lasting just eight months, it remains the fastest-constructed Formula One circuit in history.
Around 100,000 spectators cram into the circuit’s grounds each year to watch the biggest names in motorsport battle for position on the tight and twist racetrack. In the absence of a Polish Grand Prix, many Poles treat the races as a de facto home race when Polish drivers are competing in the championship. This often adds around 25,000 extra spectators.
The circuit has hosted numerous other events over the years, including the World Touring Car Championship, the European Truck Racing Championship, and the DTM. MotoGP is also planning to begin a race in Hungary, though it will race on a specially constructed circuit in Hortobágy.
Hungarians have proven to be very successful in athletics competitions. Despite having a population just below 10 million people, the country has held its own in the Olympics. In the list of most medals won, Hungary ranks 10th, with a total of 491 top-three positions during the Summer Games, behind much bigger nations like China, France, Great Britain, and the United States. When you factor in population size, Hungary ranks second for Olympic gold medals per capita, behind only Finland.
Hungarians have been most successful at fencing, swimming, canoeing, wrestling, and gymnastics. The country also ranks number one in the modern pentathlon and water polo. Part of its success in this area comes from the interest Hungarians take in these sports. Kayaking and other aquatic sports are popular recreational activities and you’ll often find Hungarians spending time on the country’s rivers and lakes.