Hungary Signals Embrace of Potential Gazprom Sponsorship Deal

(Bloomberg) -- The Hungarian government signaled backing for a reported sponsorship deal between Russia’s Gazprom PJSC and the country’s top soccer team, an agreement that would spotlight Budapest’s efforts to maintain ties with Moscow.

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A deal between Russian gas giant Gazprom and Hungary’s national football champion Ferencvaros is an “open secret,” local newspaper Blikk reported on Monday. Gazprom didn’t respond to queries and Ferencvaros declined to comment on the report.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government, which is nearly alone among European Union member states in maintaining ties with Russia, responded by saying it embraced fresh investment in the country.

“The more international companies that invest in Hungarian sports the better,” the Foreign Ministry in Budapest said in a statement to Bloomberg.

Ferencvaros, which has an insurmountable lead in the home stretch of the Hungarian football championships, is on track to win its sixth straight and 35th overall national football title.

Russia’s state-owned Gazprom was formerly a partner of UEFA, football’s governing body in Europe, and a sponsor of German football club FC Schalke 04, though both deals ended in 2022 after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Russian company still sponsors Belgrade football team Crvena Zvezda, or Red Star Belgrade, in neighboring Serbia.

Hungary last year secured a deal with Gazprom to expand gas flows from Russia even as many of its EU peers moved to reduce or eliminate their dependence on Moscow for energy.

Orban has also repeatedly sought to veto EU attempts to boost aid to Ukraine to repel Russian troops, only to later back down, earning the wrath of its Western allies in the EU and the NATO military alliance.

--With assistance from Marton Kasnyik.

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