Exclusive: 2024 Olympic Bid Chair Urges Doubters To “Get To Know Budapest”

Budapest 2024 Bid Chairman Balázs Fürjes at Hungary House in Rio (GamesBids Photo)

Budapest 2024 Bid Chairman Balázs Fürjes at Hungary House in Rio (GamesBids Photo)

GamesBids.com Exclusive – In Rio last week Budapest 2024 bid Chair Balázs Fürjes was adamant that his city was a strong contender to win the campaign to host the Olympic Games.

Of course he was, a positive outlook is mandatory for winning these contests and one shouldn’t expect anything otherwise.  But could he be right?

The 2024 bid race began almost a year ago, and it has largely been portrayed in the media as a two-horse race between Los Angeles and Paris – both already two-time hosts of the Summer Games.  As for the other two candidates – Rome is seen as a bid imploding from internal political and financial issues that could prevent the city from even reaching the finish line, and Budapest deemed an outsider that just isn’t ready for the Games.

“It’s an honour to be competing with magnificent global cities, but Budapest in not an underdog in this competition – we are an equal and strong participant for the Games,” Fürjes said in an exclusive interview with GamesBids.com.

“Because of our language and other things maybe people don’t know us much, and I kindly ask everybody – before shaping an opinion – please get to know reality, get to know about Budapest.  And then on that basis I think nobody would say Budapest is an underdog.”

So then, why are L.A. and Paris being touted as the odds-on favourites in this race?

Honestly, I don’t really know.

For reference, Chicago was considered by many the frontrunner to host the 2016 Olympic Games.  A quick look at my passport and I notice that last week it was stamped in Brazil.  Chicago instead came fourth.  Out of four.

Further back, Paris was a cinch to host the 2012 Games, but those Games were declared open by the Queen of England.

The one thing that’s predictable about IOC host city votes is that they’re unpredictable.

The truth is there is no frontrunner in the race – there isn’t really even a race yet.  Think warming up on the practice track outside of the stadium.

100-or-so International Olympic Committee (IOC) members will ultimately choose what city will host in 2024.  They’ll make that decision more than a year from now – on September 13, 2017 in Lima, Peru.  Some of those members are brand new, having just been elected to the IOC at the Games in Rio.  Many of the other members probably haven’t even begun to form an opinion with plans so vague and the ballot still months away.

So Fürjes is absolutely right – this race is still wide open, and Budapest cannot be counted out.

Budapest 2024 Olympic Bid Display at Hungary House in Rio (GamesBids Photo)

Budapest 2024 Olympic Bid Display at Hungary House in Rio (GamesBids Photo)

Los Angeles and Paris are banking on the assumption that IOC members will vote in the spirit of Olympic Agenda 2020 that calls for more modest, cost effective and sustainable bids.  L.A. stresses that everything they need – except for a single venue – already exists.  But any evidence of such a paradigm shift within the IOC membership has yet to be uncovered, and it’s not certain that the group of sport executives representing National Olympic Committees, Sport Federations and fellow athletes are ready to shake the habit of electing cities that propose the construction of cathedrals for the Olympic Movement.

Budapest, on the other hand, says that a Games in the capital of Hungary better represents the definition of Agenda 2020 “compliance,” a concept that is still way open to interpretation.

It will build new venues, satisfying the appetites of sport federations, and will do it in a sustainable and well-planned manner.  And this, officials say, will bring the Games to a new, smaller region – another prime objective on the IOC’s roadmap.

Planners are able to offer a compact footprint along the Danube River which will be used to help ferry athletes, officials and others from venue-to-venue – an Olympic River lane, if you will.  Travel times will be in the minutes using mixed transportation, and distances will be pedestrian and cyclist friendly.

For some sports such as football, a more sustainable regional approach will be used making the Games more accessible to the 10 million inhabitants in Hungary and the millions more in Eastern Europe.

Fürjes said “hosting the Olympic Games should not be the privilege of the largest and the richest cities all over the world.  Just the opposite.  If someone has the vision, dreams, discipline and are hardworking, then it should be performance only that matters.  And I think that is the essence of sport.”

Budapest is already ten years into a major sport infrastructure development program and it has plans spanning the next 10 or 15 years.  It has already delivered and will continue to do so.  The Olympic would leverage the legacy of these existing plans.

Budapest 2024 Olympic bid logo is unveiled at a ceremony overlooking the Danube River April 14, 2016 (Budapest 2024 Photo)

Budapest 2024 Olympic bid logo is unveiled at a ceremony overlooking the Danube River April 14, 2016 (Budapest 2024 Photo)

Budapest’s bid Chair, a planner for the municipal government who for over 15 years has been responsible for the construction of key sports infrastructure, believes there are even more compelling reasons why his city and hosting in 2024 are the right fit.

He said “we can introduce new vitality to the Olympic movement that would energize both the Olympic movement and the city and the nation… and the region – because we really believe it’s time for Central Europe, this will be the first time that Central Europe, Eastern Europe and Hungary this century hosts the Olympic Games.”

“I think right now that Central Europe is an Economic powerhouse of the European Union, it has a strong Olympic heritage and it would be a Games that could reach 50 million people easily – Budapest just in the middle of Europe – easily accessible from the neighbouring countries.”

Fürjes proudly ran down these undeniable facts:  Hungary ranks 8th in the all-time medal count and is the only country in the top ten never to have hosted the Olympic Games; this bid is Budapest’s sixth – the capital was snubbed when it bid for the Games in 1916, 1920, 1936, 1944 and 1960; and Hungary has sent athletes to the Games every year since 1896 with the exception of post-war years when the nation was banned.

Then there is this – had Budapest not been barred from bidding for the 1924 Games due to its involvement in the First World War, the city would have competed against Los Angeles, Paris and Rome that year.  Since then – those three cities have been chosen to play host to the Olympic Games.  But Budapest waits.

He also made another anecdotal observation.  Since the Sydney Games in 2000 the IOC has switched from new host to previous host and back again – Athens second Games followed by Beijing then London’s third Games followed by Rio then Tokyo’s second Games.  If the pattern repeats, a new city would host in 2024; only Budapest fits this profile.

Though that’s hardly a pattern that the IOC will feel compelled to adhere to, Fürjes draws this rather unsettling conclusion, he said if the IOC chooses “the fifth megacity in a row, it would mean probably that okay, this is only for the biggest cities.”

He denies that the risk with Hungary will be any greater than with other bids and he has performance to back him up.  As a city developer he has been responsible for delivering in Budapest a 13,000 seat indoor arena, a 25,000 seat soccer stadium and among other regional facilities – the development of a 15,000 seat aquatics venue with five pools set to stage the 2017 FINA (International Swimming Federaton) World Championships.

Add to that a large national stadium to be built by 2019 for the 2020 UEFA Euro Cup when Budapest is scheduled to host a group and a quarter final match.

The aquatics venue, set to be completed later this year, seems to be Fürjes proudest accomplishment.  He explained that Budapest had been chosen to host the Championships in 2021 but when Guadalajara cancelled plans to host in 2017, Budapest offered to step in and move up its schedule by four years.  That was in March 2015; the corner-stone was laid two months later in May, and in just a few weeks from now the pools will be filled with water.

The venue of the 2017 World Aquatics Championship under construction in Budapest, Hungary - May 2016.

The venue of the 2017 World Aquatics Championship under construction in Budapest, Hungary – May 2016.

With the championships scheduled for July and ending just six weeks prior to the IOC host city vote, it will be an excellent opportunity for Budapest’s bid team to demonstrate its capabilities, and reliability in the production of a world class venue and event within an extremely compressed timeline.

FINA, one of the more influential Federations in the Olympic Movement, is already reveling in what it says is “amazing progress” on the venue and claiming “it’s a great legacy for Budapest.”

And it will be an excellent resume for Fürjes as a partner for the IOC.

“My everyday job is in city planning and delivering large-scale project in Budapest,” he told GamesBids.com.

“My everyday job is basically to dream, and plan and deliver.”

“And I always say that for dreaming you need to have the freedom, dream freely but then plan responsibly and deliver with discipline.”

“The preliminary preparation and design and planning phase are most important.  And you also have the rule of thumb that many people miss that it takes equal time for the design and preparation phase as the construction time.”

He believes he can use this proven process to take on the Olympic project.

“Though it’s difficult, it’s not rocket science and you can learn from mistakes,” he added – looking back at Rio and past Games.

“Seven years is not a long time, you have to start working day number one and if you do the step-by-step approach … then you can deliver the projects on time and on budget.

“Budapest is not an underdog in this competition,” he underlined once again with greater conviction.

Referring to the stakeholders who will most influence the IOC vote he added “talking to the International Federations – they organize the competitions, they are important – IOC members know the story of Hungary, they don’t need to be told about it.”

“Those who have been [to Budapest] recently know.  Twenty years ago, they don’t know – the city has changed so much in the past 10 years.”

And those pundits, the ones who claim L.A. and Paris are far ahead in this race, likely don’t know either.

Robert Livingstone

About Robert Livingstone

Robert Livingstone is a senior editor, award-winning journalist and author, covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. He is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians. Follow him @enotsgnivil