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Sports

Hungarian swimming hoping to move on from major scandal

Hungarian swimming has been rocked by the news that their longtime national team coach was convicted of rape decades ago. To make matters worse, senior swimming federation officials knew about it - but kept quiet.

Since the rape conviction of world-renowned coach Laszlo Kiss came to light almost three weeks ago, the president of the Hungarian Swimming Federation, Tamas Gyarfas (above, standing) and other officials have been scrambling to explain themselves. That's because it had apparently been an "open secret" within Hungarian swimming circles that Kiss, now 75, had been tried and convicted of rape decades ago.

The revelations sparked Hungarian sports' biggest scandal in decades, raising questions about why swimmers and their parents weren't informed - as well as about privacy issues.

Speaking after the annual congress of the Hungarian Swimming Federation in Budapest on Sunday, Gyarfas told DW that it had been his decision not to go public with the information.

"We knew that there was this ominous case involving a woman, and that Kiss was sentenced because of it. I also knew that," Gyarfas said. "And so I analyzed the situation - and I would do the same thing today. I saw that this prison sentence had reformed him, and he later truly proved that he was able to change and start over."

Ungarn Schwimmverband Tamás Gyárfás

Gyarfas: 'The prison sentence reformed Kiss'

"I decided - perhaps wrongly - that it would not be suitable when I took over the president's chair (in 1993) that it wasn't right to reveal this about someone who had already coached four Olympic champions, won several awards himself, and was a celebrity in his own right both on the domestic sports scene and internationally."

Speaking during the congress, Gyarfas had also expressd his apologizes to anybody whose feelings he may have hurt by his decision.

Gang-rape conviction

The news first broke on April 5 when Hungarian crime-reporting website "privatkopo.hu" published information about Kiss' conviction for taking part in the gang rape of a young female swimmer when he was 21 years old.

The rape took place on July 4, 1961, after Kiss and two others had lured the young woman into an apartment. The trio of young swimmers, all of whom competed for Budapest's prestigious Ferencvaros sports club - were later arrested, tried and found guilty of gang rape.

Kiss served just 20 months of his three-year sentence. The two other men were also sentenced and served prison terms. Upon his release, Kiss resumed taking part in swimming competitions, and a few years later became the head coach of Hungarian swimming club Budapest Spartacus. He went on to become the women's national team coach in 1993, and also the men's coach six years later.

International success

Under Kiss, Hungary won dozens of world titles and 10 Olympic gold medals, with star swimmers like Laszlo Cseh, Krisztina Egerszegi, Agnes Kovacs and Daniel Gyurta. However, people are now questioning how he got his sentence reduced and got back into swimming so quickly - in the communist era. This generally didn't happen unless you struck a deal with authorities, possibly to report on people. There is no file on Kiss at the Hungarian Secret Police Archives in Budapest, but head researcher Balas Orban told DW that this doesn't necessarily mean that one doesn't exist somewhere.

Kiss resigns

Kiss has denied having been an informant and claims he got out early because of a general amnesty issued for certain felons in 1963.

When his past was first brought to light, he didn't deny having been convicted, but said that he "was given a second chance in life" which he "used to the fullest." Two days later he claimed that he had never committed the crime and that the 1962 court case was a show trial with trumped-up charges.

Nevertheless, he resigned as the national swimming team's head coach shortly afterwards.

National team's future

Ungarn Schwimmverband András Hargitay

Hargitay: Looking to to turn the page

Hungarian swimmers are expected to win at least four gold medals at the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer, but some analysts have expressed fears about whether the scandal could affect their performances. Gyarfas rejects the notion, arguing that following Kiss' resignation, the swimmers will travel to Rio with clear heads.

Kiss' successor as national team coach, Andras Hargitay, has said he is determined to turn the page and focus on the Olympics.

"I can calm everyone down; the swimmers, the coaches, the public as well as international opinion. Hungarian swimming, the national swimming team and the federation will do everything in their power to ensure that the national team produces the best results possible in Rio."

And when asked if he might have any skeletons in his closet, he smiled and said: "None. You can look for yourself."