SZABOLCS VINCZE 2021.01.25 09:42

Rugby: He was a political refugee, now he is rugby’s European boss

Rugby Europe's President, Octavian Morariu of Romania, visited Hungary to exchange of use with the Hungarian Rugby Union in which he sees potential, and he believes it will play an important role on the continent.

Octavian Morariu (Photo: Károly Árvai)


– Your father Viorel Morariu was a famous rugby player in Romania. What do you remember from that era?
– The first rugby game played in Romania was in 1904, and the championship started in 1914. The country had a strong French influence because of the political, cultural and economic ties between the two nations. Most Romanian players studied in France. I was born into an athletic family; my mother was a World championship runner-up in volleyball while my father was a national team rugby player in the 50-60s and was the captain of the team that defeated France for the first time in 1960. I remember when I was little he had a Fiat 1100 with a bunch of rugby balls in the trunk. I always took one out and played with my friends. My holiday was that I attended the matches, the training camps in the mountains and on the seacoast. I started playing rugby seriously when I was 14, and I also made the youth national team.


Antal Kiss, president of the Hungarian Rugby Union, launched an 8-year comprehensive program in 2016 for the development of Hungarian rugby by creating the R24 strategy. Its main objectives are the establishment of a self-sustaining system for the sport, creating an active base of 2000 athletes, developing the competition system, teaching rugby in schools in Budapest, strengthening the English and French relations and setting up a European regional development center. One of the greatest achievements so far is the Rugby Center of Budapest in Kincsem Park that opened in October 2019 and became the home of the sport. The Hungarian Rugby Union will host in this stadium one of Europe's biggest rugby events, the 24-team, second-level Rugby Europe Trophy.


– Was your way to the senior team smooth?
– Military was mandatory before college, and then, I came back to my club Grivita Rosie. I played my first national team game against Spain three years later, and was invited to the British Barbarians. However, if we count the official matches, I've only played five games with the national team.


– I left Romania in 1987 at the age of 26 and became a political refugee in France, so I couldn't be a national team member. I received protection from the French special police when I had to hide for 10 days from the Romanian secret service Securitate. Only my father in the family knew I defected. Eventually, I ended staying in Bordeaux where I started playing rugby again. Then, I left for Paris and had to find a job. I graduated as a mechanical engineer and have spent my whole finding balance between my profession and rugby. It's the same today. My father was an engineer, my mother was a teacher, so that's what I saw in the family.

– How did your sports career end?
– I broke my arm in the last championship match, had three surgeries in one year, so I had to retire in 1990. I've worked for three years as a coach at the high-profile club PSG where the rugby team was small. We trained in Camp des Loges where the footballers were as well. Despite I didn't have a continuous contact with rugby between 1995 and 2001 when I returned to Romania because of my other businesses, I was elected President of the Romanian Rugby Federation. It was a tough period as the best players signed on abroad, the sport had to be re-regulated, and we called French coaches. Romanian rugby returned to the way it was before and qualified for the World Championships.

– How did your path lead to the presidency of Europe Rugby?

– I became the Minister for Sports in 2003 and then the President of the Romanian Olympic Committee in 2004 which I was for 10 years. In 2013, I was elected President of Europe Rugby. On my first day, there were only a manager and a secretary in the management, but today we have a professional team. I've just started my third term as president, which will also be my last one because I don't want to stay president forever. I have to be bold for change, and I already need to think about what I will leave behind for my successor.

– What do you think of Hungary rugby in 2021?

– Yours is a great sports nation. Hungarians love sports and they have great athletes which also means great potential for rugby. You already have a rugby stadium, and your prime minister also did and still does a lot for Hungarian sports. I remember I had a pleasant conversation with Viktor Orbán during the 2016 Rio Olympics. The President of the Hungarian Rugby Union, Antal Kiss, has clear plans and is solicitous for the sport while Gábor Stiglmayer has a great hold on the national team. Hungarian rugby is on the right track, and will play an important role in Europe which we'll give full support for. Hungarian and Romanian rugby could also work together which both sides are open to. Sport is like a bridge between the two countries. I believe in respect, unity and diversity. People are also diverse in rugby, but they fight in one team, and their goal is the same.

– Why did you visit Hungary now?

– When I was re-elected last month, I vowed that I'd visit all national federations, and I promised Antal Kiss that I'd start with Hungary and visit your facilities. The Rugby Europe Trophy will be held in Budapest in the summer, and I'll return for sure. I'm certain that it will be a great event.

(Translated by Vanda Orosz)

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