Ethiopia’s stars set their sights on Budapest
For six decades, a blossoming friendship has taken root between Ethiopia and Hungary, rooted in common goals of peace, prosperity and progress.
Since establishing diplomatic ties in 1959, the unlikely pairing of one of Africa’s oldest nations and a small European country has nurtured an alliance buoyed by economic, educational and cultural exchange.
In 2016, Budapest’s decision to reopen its embassy in Addis Ababa breathed new vitality into the relationship, particularly in the sectors of education and commerce.
Hungary’s Stipendium Hungaricum scholarship program now sends 50 of Ethiopia’s brightest students to Hungarian universities each year, that number poised to double in the New Year.
In 2023, Budapest will stage one of track and field’s grandest spectacles when it hosts the 19th World Athletics Championships. And many of Ethiopia’s famed distance runners aim to make the journey to compete on Hungary’s biggest stage.
Dawit Tolesa of The Reporter sat down with Hungary’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, Attila Koppany, to discuss preparations for the upcoming championships, part of an unlikely but flourishing partnership that has grown stronger with each passing decade. EXCERPTS:
The Reporter: How would you describe Hungary’s level of readiness and state of preparations for the upcoming 19th World Athletics Championships in Budapest, which is expected to attract more than 2,000 elite athletes from around the globe?
Attila Koppany: The preparations for the World Championships are going very well. The main venue will be the brand new National Athletics Centre, a 35,000 seat stadium. The inauguration took place in mid-June, with over 15,000 people attending to see the best athletics stadium in Central and Eastern Europe for the first time. More than 250,000 tickets have already been sold for the World Championships, which exceeds all expectations.
Hungary aims to not only host the best World Championships ever but also promote Hungarian athletics and inspire more people to take up the sport. While Hungary has never staged an event of this scale, numerous major sporting events in recent years – including the 2017 and 2022 FINA World Championships and UEFA Euro 2020 – left athletes, fans and media very satisfied.
Since this is the third-largest sporting event in the world, we need enthusiastic, experienced people working on this project. We have an enthusiastic and experienced team organizing this championships.
What does hosting this event mean for Hungarians?
Hungarians are huge sports fans. The nation is excited to see the world’s best track and field athletes compete here. The large number of tickets sold shows this enthusiasm. We want to involve not just sports lovers but also young people and disadvantaged groups.
Our slogan “Witness the Wonder!” promises an unforgettable experience for anyone who spends even one day at the World Championships from August 19-27.
Everyone should see the beauty of Budapest with their own eyes, and witnessing some amazing races and records would be the icing on the cake.
What has Hungary contributed to international sport?
Hungary has made many contributions to international sport over the years. Hungarians were among the founders of the modern Olympic movement, with Ferenc Kemény serving as one of the 16 founding members of the International Olympic Committee in 1894.
Hungary has a strong Olympic history, ranking in the top 10 all-time in Olympic medals with 184 gold, 158 silver and 183 bronze medals won, including 7 gold medals in athletics.
While Hungary is still waiting for its first gold medal in athletics at the World Outdoor Championships, the nation has won seven silver and seven bronze medals, showing its strong performance at the highest level.
The first Hungarian victory in the history of the World Outdoor Athletics Championships is still to come, but with seven silver and seven bronze medals, Hungary has nothing to be ashamed of.
The Hungarian István Gyulai played a significant role in international athletics during his time as a member and later General Secretary of the IAAF from 1984 until his death in 2006. He helped Hungary host several major athletics events and promoted the sport within the country.
Every year Hungary hosts an international athletics meet in honor of Gyulai, with Ethiopian athletes like Firew Samuel and Alem Ksanet among the participants. This year, Firew finished second in the 3000m steeplechase and Alem came eighth in the 1500m at the competition.
Though Hungary has a modest population size, its athletes often achieve great success at international competitions. What could explain Hungary’s consistent ability to produce world-class athletes?
Sport has been a strategic priority sector for Hungary since 2010. The government defines the role of sport in three ways: building high-quality sports facilities, organizing major international events, and getting more children involved in sports.
Another goal is to make Hungary not just a “sports nation” but a “sporty nation” by introducing physical education in school curriculums.
We are proud of Teqball, a Hungarian-created sport that has spread around the world in just 10 years. The international federation (FITEQ) now has over 150 national associations as its member nations. The goal is for Teqball to become an Olympic sport.
It was an important milestone when Teqball recently became an official medal event at the European Games in Kraków, Poland, known as the “European Olympics”.
All of these efforts show that sport remains a high priority for Hungary and helps explain the success of our athletes on the world stage, despite our small size.
Hungary is known for its thermal baths, scenic landscapes, and distinctive cuisine. Can you provide more details about these aspects of Hungarian culture and tourism that attract many visitors?
Hungary is a top tourist destination in Central Europe, with Budapest considered one of the world’s most beautiful cities where culture, traditions and innovation meet.
Hungary is the land of water, and Budapest is one of the spa capitals of the world. The country has over 1,500 thermal springs used by over 200 baths, resorts and wellness hotels.
Lake Balaton, Central Europe’s largest lake in the Balaton Uplands region, offers year-round experiences. The region, a prospective World Heritage Site, has a favorable climate, castles, ruins, towers and wine regions. Visitors can also swim in Lake Heviz, the world’s largest thermal lake. Besides the healing thermal springs, Hungary is also an excellent destination for nature lovers and active vacationers.
But Hungary’s cuisine may be even better than its sights. Each region has delicious specialties worth tasting. Gastronomy has always played an important role in Hungarian culture.
In recent years, Hungary has undergone a culinary revolution using high quality ingredients while keeping traditional techniques. Budapest is famous for some of the finest Michelin-starred restaurants in the world.
Hungary has an impressive record of humanitarian action and international development aid. Could you provide an update on Hungary’s current and planned projects?
Hungary is dedicated to providing the requested humanitarian support on a bilateral basis. In just the last few years, we have contributed to Ethiopia’s development through various shelter facilities, school building and renovation projects, as well as medical donations and professional support. In the first half of 2023, we successfully implemented two of our flagship projects.
In April 2023, we inaugurated the first phase of the Youth Counselling Center in Addis Ababa, where at the same time 50 young Ethiopians were able to acquire basic skills that will help their lifelong prosperity.
We see these development projects as an important part of strengthening the bilateral relationship between our countries and improving livelihoods for Ethiopians. Hungary is committed to continuing our support and cooperation for many years to come.