The former Olympic, world and European champion boxer, István Kovács can be a great example for active athletes, as the popular athlete has found his place in civil life after several successful careers. As a sports manager, restaurant owner and media personality, he has been successful. We talked to him on the occasion of the European Day of Care program, which is a big collaborative partnership co-funded by the Erasmus+ Sport Programme of the European Union, an extension of our club’s initiative launched in 2015. Our goal, together with other European multisport clubs, is to highlight the difficulties of transitioning from leading sports to civil life and to share inspirational stories of those who have succeeded.
- Many people remember István “Kokó” Kovács’ boxing career, but recently you have appeared mostly on television as a presenter and reporter. Do you still have a relationship with boxing?
- This year, it will be 18 years since I put on my boxing gloves and I no longer live as an active athlete but as a public person close to sports. Boxing and sports management are still close to me, as I am an international vice-president of the WBO. I’m observing amateur boxing from a very long distance, but this year will be a bit different as the International Olympic Committee has asked me to help the organizers with my expertise in boxing in the Tokyo Olympics. Besides, as a viewer, I still love boxing, its professional version.
- After announcing your retirement in 2002, your change to civil life was smooth, as you almost immediately started working for the domestic and international federation.
- My career ended relatively suddenly, I remember in December 2001, I was faced with the loss of promotion around me and the slow completion of my career. In my last match, in April 2002, I entered the ring with the intention of saying goodbye to boxing. After that I had to find my place in civil life very quickly. I'm not saying I was not prepared for it before, but I was certainly not conscious enough to switch immediately. Fortunately, both the media industry, the business world and sports diplomacy offered me opportunities almost immediately. First, I started working for the International Federation, and then there were other tasks and assignments. I was able to switch smoothly into civil life, there were not long months that I had to spend on finding my way.
- How much time did you have for self-education during your sports career?
- I tried to do more and more things besides the professional sports. I worked through my life. This was true even when I won the Olympic Championship title (1996) and twice as a World Champion (1991, 1997) and European Champion (1991, 1996). For example, I worked for an IT company as a marketer, but also did some manual work, read a lot, and eventually learned German and English. I was constantly preparing for civil life, just like every man from his teens. Of course, athletes are sometimes the exception. Many people believe that their careers will never end, or they may earn so much money during their active years that they will not have to work later.
- Nowadays we can watch you often on television. It may be interesting for our readers: how did you get into the media world?
- The late Jenő Knézy first introduced me to Telesport (sport magazine of Hungarian National Television) in 1996. When I finished my amateur career, then for about two months I thought I would not continue as a professional because I’ve achieved everything I wanted. I was preparing for my civil life, so I became an intern and became a presenter at Hungarian Television. In the end, however, I decided to pursue a professional career where, by the time of my retirement, I had gained a reputation and acclaim that the media really wanted to work with me. At that time, various TV channels found me with a show idea or a possibility to be a presenter. I worked for one of the commercial televisions for 4 years, then moved to the sport broadcasting industry in 2006 and still involved.
- What do you think is the reason why you have had such a smooth life after your sports career?
- The key to success was that both sides worked well. On average, 2-3 million people watched my matches on television, and many wanted to make a business with me. I got a lot of opportunities in business and sports diplomacy, so I feel lucky. True, this is not just about luck: I have always tried to be prepared for life precisely so that if I got a chance, it could not have happened that I am not ready for the job.
- What kind of advice do you have for an athlete when to start thinking about their future?
- Immediately, right at that time when he starts his sports career. Keep an open eye, read a lot, be informed, develop their skills, because it is not enough if someone has a good kicking technique or outstanding physical abilities. If we do not follow the challenges of life and adapt to them, we will fall behind. An active career in an athlete's life is hopefully followed by a much longer period, or even 40-50 years. If they can't fill this time period, they will be terribly bitter men. The pubs are full with former top athletes, who tell their sad thoughts, blaming themselves and their environment, because they were not prepared for the life after their sports career.
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