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Hungary’s Olympic entry in canoe-kayak refuses to be vaccinated


Budapest, Hungary – Today I’ll recount a bizarre story, which begins in the world of sports and ends in the strange realm of vaccination skepticism or perhaps even phobia.

Those who follow canoe/kayak slalom, a regular Olympic sport since 1972, could have heard the good news released in March that, although the sport hasn’t caught on in Hungary yet, the country will be able to send its first canoe/kayak slalom competitor to Tokyo.

Hungary’s first Olympic entry in canoe-kayak

The Magyar Kajak-Kenu Szövetség (Hungarian Canoe Federation), which had no potential home-grown competitors, looked abroad and spotted two foreign-born canoeists, Marcel Potocny from Bratislava and Julia Schmid from Klagenfurt, who might become naturalized Hungarian citizens so they could compete in the Olympic Games. Potocny apparently had a good chance of being chosen by Slovakia, but Schmid’s chances in Austria, where the sport is very popular, were slim. Therefore, the Hungarian Federation opted for Schmid to be its entry in the event.

The deal was reached sometime in 2019 when Schmid became a Hungarian citizen and made a trip to her new country, where she was enthusiastically welcomed. She met many Hungarian dignitaries inside and outside of the canoeing circle, including Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony. She gave an upbeat interview to Telex, in which she seemed to be “very proud to represent Hungary at the Tokyo Olympics and happy to support the Hungarian Federation to attract more young people to the slalom discipline which might one day be as strong as the sprint discipline.” She expressed her admiration of the excellent sporting facilities the country has.

At present, Hungary has no slalom pitch, and therefore the four slalom canoeists whom the Hungarian Federation supports — Marcel Potocny, Julia Schmid, Sára Seprényi, and Koppány Rácz — train abroad, in Austria, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. However, the Hungarians have ambitious plans to build a slalom pitch in Kisköre, in Heves County, near Lake Tisza. They also hope to develop another one later in Csepel. Potocny and Schmid were supposed to lead the way, to be followed by many future Hungarian champions of the sport.

As the date of the Olympic Games was approaching, the Federation triumphantly announced on its Facebook page on July 8 that Hungary’s entry for the canoe/kayak slalom competition was “Osztrák lány magyar színekben, Japánban! Hajrá Julia!” A day after this enthusiastic Facebook comment, the Presidium of the Hungarian Olympic Committee decided that only athletes protected against Covid-19 can be members of the Hungarian team. And today came the bombshell. The Olympic Committee announced that Julia Schmid refuses to be vaccinated and therefore will not be able to compete in the games. Pál Dániel Rényi of 444 found the announcement “one of the most shocking Hungarian-related news items of the tournament.”

Julia Schmid unable to compete after refusing anti-Covid vaccine

The Hungarian media was stunned. Here is someone who spoke so fervently only a couple of months earlier about her burning desire to participate in the games, and now she forgoes the opportunity to compete. But the true situation is even more “shocking” because Hungary’s newly acquired citizen athlete has been in Tokyo ever since July 7. Nemzeti Sport wrote about “our early bird” who not only arrived but is already training at a central Olympic training camp of the International Kayak/Canoe Federation.

The other Hungarian hopeful, Marcel Potocny of Bratislava, was also in Tokyo but only as a visitor because he didn’t make the Slovak team. The Hungarian Federation gambled on Schmid, while hoping that Potocny would triumph over his competition at home. But then Schmid deserted them, and Potocny, who is apparently the better athlete, was prevented from taking part in the Olympics, representing Hungary.

The training of the Hungarian athletes, whether they hail from Hungary, Austria or Slovakia, costs a great deal of money, as we learned from the original long interview by Telex. Botond Storcz, the leader of the Federation’s slalom section, made it clear that foreign training cannot be maintained in the long run for financial reasons. That’s why Hungary needs slalom pitches. So, we must assume that the Hungarian Federation was financially responsible for Schmid’s training, at least since 2019. And her travel to Tokyo was also paid for by the Federation.

I should add that Julia Schmid is not a silly teenager who hasn’t grown up yet. She is a 33-year-old practicing veterinarian.

While we are on the subject of people with a fear of vaccination, Hungarian papers are full of the story of a general practitioner in Szabolcs County who was selling fake vaccination certificates for 50,000 forints each. Of course, the doctor is just a crook, but what really amazes me about this story is that people were willing to pay $165 for a fake vaccination certificate instead of getting a painless, safe, and free shot. And yet in Hungary, 15% of the people over 65 still haven’t been vaccinated. Enthusiasm for vaccination is waning everywhere, with the sad result of extending the length of an uncertain future.

By the Hungarian Spectrum, an official Kafkadesk partner.

Coordinated by Ábel Bede, Kafkadesk's Budapest office is made up of a growing team of freelance journalists, editors and fact-checkers passionate about Hungarian affairs and dedicated to bringing you all the latest news, events and insights from Hungary.