In June 2016 I wrote about Inter CDF SE, a football club based in Budapest created by Hungarian residents with African heritage who happened to be making big strides in the lower echelons of the Hungarian football pyramid.
Last season, 10 years after foundation, Inter made the last 16 of the Magyar Kupa (Hungary’s version of the FA Cup) and narrowly missed out on promotion to the Hungarian third tier whilst in the meantime becoming a beacon of hope for the migrant community within Hungary which had been vilified by the government ever since the so-called ‘European refugee crisis’.
Hungary’s tough stance on migrants and refugees has been a constant in the worldwide mainstream media in recent months. Last October Viktor Orban’s government won a highly contentious referendum on migrant quotas with 98% of the vote (the vote was deemed legally invalid because the turnout was below 50%) and in 2015 Orban controversially devised a plan to build a barbed wired fence along the Serbia – Hungary and Croatia – Hungary border to keep potential migrants out.
Inter’s rise was very much anti-narrative. Here was a football club built by migrants, in an anti-migrant country, who were becoming a success and a feel good story giving optimism and belief to a community who felt castigated by Hungarian society. Following my story for IBWM, the club was visited by Hungary’s leading sports newspaper Nemzeti Sport as well as AFP who printed the story in English, and also in French. The club had captured the imagination of football fans not just in Hungary, but around the world.
Following a stodgy start to this season, Inter started to pick up as summer turned to autumn, and in September put up a great effort against Mosonmagyarovari TE in the Magyar Kupa, eventually succumbing 2-1 to the professional second tier side. With no cup run to distract the players this year, promotion very much became a priority. But here comes the twist.
On October 12th, Inter CDF was expelled from the Budapest Division 1 with immediate effect and demoted two divisions for being unable to field teams at Under 16 and Under 19 level. The MLSZ (Hungarian FA) statement read:
“It is an obligation for teams participating in the Hungarian leagues (professional or amateur) to have certain youth or in some cases youth women teams. Certainly the higher the team’s level the more commitment they need to do in the field of youth education.
The club in question did not put a single youth team for several times and according to regulation their membership has been terminated.”
On the face of it, the punishment seems at best a little harsh. But with context, you could be forgiven for feeling a great deal more cynical. In the first article I wrote, Victor Nelson referenced the fact that the majority of their youth sides were compiled of Romani kids, a demographic that have had integration problems not just in Hungary, but around the world, for centuries.
Nelson’s response didn’t deny the fact they had been unable to field squads at times, but his take on the punishment is telling:
“We are very much aware of the requirements for every level of BLSZ competitions. Where we have a problem is with the selective implementation or observance of the regulations. Many clubs are struggling with the U19 and U16 teams just like us. But other clubs non-regular compliance are being overlooked while Inter CDF is punished.
Secret agents were constantly sent to our U16 & U19 matches. Most of the agents are also officials of some of the clubs in the Budapest Division 1, such as Ikarus and Ferencváros Fc.
The BLSZ is against us as they have always been. The situation is much more than what they told you. They ganged up against Inter and they won.
Our team’s composition of Romani kids and foreigners in the senior team is not what those in BLSZ likes to see progress.
I’m happy that we have been able to bring positive changes to the life of many kids and those that had no chance to play football.” For Nelson’s full statement in more detail, click here
His words match the way Hungary as a whole is currently heading, and though we shouldn’t treat what Nelson said without at least a degree of scepticism, this isn’t the first time Inter have been severely punished for a moderately minor misdemeanour.
The main concern regarding Inter’s expulsion on a broader scale is that it brings up the question again of just much say do the Hungarian government have in running the MLSZ? Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is a keen football lover who has, against a lot of political and public opposition, poured tens of millions of Euros of tax payer’s money into the Hungarian game. The PM himself has rebranded his home village’s club from Felcsut FC to Puskas Akademia and built them a world class stadium. Orban is a regular at national team games, the Chairman of the MLSZ is a personal friend, as now is national team head coach Bernd Storck who he’s been seen with dozens of times at football matches across the country and beyond.
Whilst being a football lover is no crime, it is worrying in a time when the opposition media across Hungary is being squeezed out of sight, and Hungarian football has been so recently rife with match fixing, that such political capacity may send the sport in a direction that football just isn’t supposed to go – especially as rumours continue to swirl that even Nemzeti Sport, Hungary’s leading sports newspaper, has a political agenda after being recently taken over by an Orban ally.
To many Inter’s expulsion may seem like a tiny dot on the radar, but it is seemingly symptomatic of an ongoing problem not just within Hungarian football, but the wider parameters of Hungarian society itself. The expulsion of Inter feels like more of a political decision than a footballing one. When Hungary is pushing for fewer migrants and a more racially and religiously singular nation, the sign that a migrant community can come together and thrive in the face of adversity would not have been viewed with great fondness by Orban and his government.
But Inter’s resilience, as it has been since their formation, is commendable.
“We will continue to contribute to the development of football in the country and assist the less privileged,” says Nelson. “We need a lot of support from everyone as we try to be the hope for many children and young people.”
The story of Inter CDF SE is not quite over yet, no matter how much the MLSZ and the Hungarian government may want it to be.
By Tomasz Mortimer. You can follow him on Twitter @TMortimerFtbl. This article originally appeared on Hungarian Football.