Hungarian parents opposed the dominance of immigrants from Russia in figure skating and the abusive coaching methods

Posted on 2023-02-20 • 1 comment


Figure skating school in Budapest is accused of inviting too many Russian skaters to represent Hungary and abusive coaching methods towards local athletes.

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source: sport-express dd. 15 Febryary 2022 by Rustam Imamov

The Hungarian national team today is almost like the current Georgian national team—it consists mainly of Russians. For the past few years, this country has been inviting figure skaters from Russia. For example, only ex-Russians went to the last European Championships. On the one hand, they moved the sport forward and won spots for the national team at major competitions. But on the other hand, local athletes lost the opportunity to compete at the European Championships. The situation has reached a critical point: the parents of the Hungarian skaters wrote an open letter against the leadership of the Hungarian Figure Skating Federation, suspecting him of mercenary ties with Russia.

Russian figure skaters, long before the current difficult events (war in Ukraine and the suspension of Russian athletes from international competitions), were leaving both during and after their sports careers. Over time, emigration circles began to form; in some countries, there were fewer local children than those who came from the post-Soviet countries. The scheme was beneficial to everyone: athletes and specialists who did not find a place for themselves in their homelands (most often due to fierce competition) developed sports where figure skating is still in its infancy. However, not everyone likes this form of cooperation. In Hungary, parents of local skaters filed a complaint against the director of the skating department and national team coach, Gurgen Vardanjan, and his ex-wife, Jeranjak Ipakjan, the national team’s head, as well as Julia Sebestyen, the director of the figure skating sports club in Budapest. 

The main complaint is that, according to the parents, these specialists are deliberately promoting athletes from Russia without taking into account the interests of native skaters. It’s one thing when there are isolated cases of attracting foreign athletes to the national team, but only ex-Russians went to the last European Championships in Finland. Moreover, the Hungarian athletes were told that they weren’t seen as promising skaters. The training process is described as excessively rigid and psychologically abusive. One of the parents claims that Sebestyen, the European champion, spanked and pinched their children. This information is allegedly ready to be confirmed by other coaches, competitors, and a sports psychologist. However, the Hungarian Figure Skating Federation denies all allegations, and Julia threatened to sue Sport24HUN newspaper for slandering her. Perhaps the parents are really exaggerating, but in any case, such a letter is a marker of dissatisfaction with the situation.

In January, six skaters from Hungary went to the European Championships in Finland, but only one of them was born in Hungary. The rest of the team consisted of four immigrants from Russia and one Ukrainian. Against this background, local athletes either stop playing sports or go to train in neighboring countries. For example, single skater Mozes Berei went to the figure skating academy, telling the director of the club in Budapest, Julia Shebeshyen, that he didn’t want to put up with “Russian dominance.” “I want to represent these three letters, “HUN,” and our flag. This is my country and my heart. And for the Russians, these are just random letters that they chose to get to Worlds,” says Berei. Vivien Papp trains in Switzerland. In the fall, she posted on her social networks that she could no longer represent the Hungarian flag as the local federation offered a strange contract.

Papp was required to renounce her claims to state support, despite the fact that legionnaires from Russia live on state support. A similar story happened with Balazs Nagy, who moved from Budapest to the USA with Lena Ecker and Katinka Zsembery. The last who remained are Julia Lang and Julia Shebeshyen, but, according to Hungarian journalists, they will soon leave the country as a result of the “Russian occupation” of local figure skating. Thus, there will be no professional figure skaters left in Hungary who were born in this country. The press claims that this practice began in March 2018—exactly at the moment when figure skating in the country was headed by Gurgen Vardanjan. He was born in Yerevan and worked in Sverdlovsk during the Soviet years. He went to raise figure skating in Hungary but, at the same time, retained ties with Russia.

It was Vardanjan who brought all (albeit few) successes of Hungarian figure skating. Actually, it was he who brought Julia Sebestyen to the title of European champion. At the same time, Gurgen helped Russian athletes who did not find a place in their homeland get settled in Hungary. Among them were the wife of Mikhail Kolyada, Daria Beklemishcheva, the Junior World champion in ice dancing, Anna Yanovskaya, and many others. But recently, the number of ex-Russians in Budapest has really begun to grow at a noticeable pace. And as the quantity grew, the quality went down. In addition, representatives of the Russian Figure Skating Federation started to come to Hungary. In October 2022, there were rumors that ISU Honorary Vice President Alexander Lakernik was working in Hungary as a national team consultant. The specialist himself denied this information, but in Budapest, they still reacted strongly to such a possibility.

Parents of Hungarian skaters claim that they do not require special treatment for their children. But, in their opinion, now the legionnaires have an advantage over the locals. Questions are raised about both the financial side of the relationship—the Hungarians must fund their own training while the ex-Russians are compensated for everything—and the judging—the results of local qualifying competitions are frequently predetermined. Therefore, they claim that Vardanjan has his own financial interest in maintaining such a situation. In addition, Gurgen covers for Julia Sebestyen, whose training methods cause concern for parents. It is alleged that she allows emotional and physical abuse. When children get injured, she does not call a doctor, but asks the students to endure and skate through the pain without even informing parents about the child’s health problems.

“My daughter fell hard during practice,” says the mother of the 11-year-old figure skater. A huge bump has grown on her head. Obviously, this is the result of a fall on the ice. But coach Julia didn’t call the doctor; she didn’t even call us right after the fall. Moreover, she did not even let our daughter leave the training and demanded that she do the exercises. When we came for our daughter at the end of training, we found her crying. She pointed to the bump and trembled.” Fortunately, young Cinti did not have anything serious; she managed to avoid a fracture, but the very fact of her completely ignoring the elementary rules of first aid from the coach is disturbing. A similar story is told by an 18-year-old Hungarian single skater who was required to jump triples immediately after suffering a coronavirus. The disease progressed to bronchitis; he could barely stand on his feet, but he was asked to give all his best.

“I am your coach, and I need results. I don’t care about your cough—go and work,” Julia told the student. As the parents of the skaters say, the coach, Sebestyen, always has one answer to everything: “If you don’t like it, leave the sport.” At the same time, Sebestyen is not as strict with athletes who came from abroad and releases them from training at their first request. The journalists turned to the leadership of the Hungarian Skating Union with a request to comment on the accusations of the parents. But they referred to the lack of information and explained that they would analyze the success of the work of Vardanjan and Julia Sebestyen only at the end of the season, after the World Championships. Whether she will refuse inviting the Russians and what this will lead to, only time will tell, but in any case, the story has received publicity, and for sure, the figure skating school in Budapest will no longer be able to work as before.


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One response to “Hungarian parents opposed the dominance of immigrants from Russia in figure skating and the abusive coaching methods”

  1. No war says:

    Positive that the parents have reacted. This is, probably, the only way you can make a change..

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