Article in Magyar Élet

October 5, 2017
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My article appeared in the Australian-Hungarian newspaper on 5 October 2017.

In case your Hungarian is a little rusty, I’ve included a translation for the article.

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The Revolution that almost did not happen

The butterfly effect is a scientific theory that claims that “small causes can have larger effects.” For example, the path of a tornado can be influenced by the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier. While it may sound absurd, scientists have shown that it is true.

Such a butterfly effect almost stopped the tornado of the Hungarian Revolution. The butterfly flapping it tiny wings was in Melbourne, over 15,000 km away.

After winning the 1956 Olympic Games, Melbourne was slow to build the Olympic Village, sporting facilities and even the MCG was not available for athletic events.

By 1954, the International Olympic Committee was in a panic, worried that Melbourne might not be ready. So, in secret, it started to work on Plan B.

This secret plan was uncovered by archivist and historian, Kosztricz Anna, who found a letter in the archives of the Országos Testnevelési és Sport Bizottság (OTSB). It was from its chairman, Hegyi Gyula, to Farkas Mihály, one of the hard men in the Rákosi regime, and it was dated 11 May 1954. It appears that the Hungarian government was secretly approached and asked whether Budapest was able and willing to host the 1956 Olympic Games if Melbourne was unable to do so.

Budapest was an obvious choice. It had already built many of the sporting facilities needed for the Olympic Games. The Népstadion (now the Puskás Ferenc Stadion) that could accommodate 100,000 spectators, and Budapest also had a number of Olympic size swimming pools, like Császárfürdő. In addition, it had proper soccer fields, unlike in Australia where Australian Rules football ovals had to be modified to accommodate Olympic soccer matches.

Hegyi, however, identified a number of problems. After the war, many hotels had been damaged and he warned that Budapest would be unable to accommodate the thousands of overseas visitors expected to attend the Olympic Games. The transport system also could not take the increased number of passengers.

So the decision was made to bid for the 1960 Olympics, which would give Budapest a chance to fix these problems. This bid would fail, and the Games were won by Rome.

Had Budapest hosted the Olympics Games, it would have held in September. With all the goodwill the Olympic Games would have generated in sports-mad Hungary, would there have been a revolution in October? Obviously this is highly speculative, but Melbourne was almost the butterfly have stopped the tornado that exploded on 23 October 1956.

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