Reporting From Budapest, Hungary – The ceremonial opening of the Danube Arena – built for the 2017 FINA Aquatics World Championships in Budapest and a proposed venue for Hungary’s bid for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games – was bittersweet for the bid committee Tuesday.
Last week a political group that is opposed to Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivered a petition that will likely force a referendum over the bid causing Orban, previously a solid supporter of the Olympic project, to soften his position. Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos said earlier this week that if he couldn’t get the support of the Prime Minister that he may ask the City Council to cancel all bid plans as early as Wednesday, when the two leaders are set to discuss the issue.
On Sunday bid Chair Balázs Fürjes called for unity behind the bid. Without it, he said, “the ship has sailed.”
But at the glitzy opening and naming ceremony for the city’s Danube Arena, Fürjes stepped back his comments, and those of the mayor, claiming he believes that there are still “weeks” in which his team can build unity and drive the project forward.
“Today might be the day of starting meaningful discussions,” Fürjes said.
“My presumption is that no decision shall be made tomorrow, until the opening of the debate, and we have just a few weeks to restore, and find support in the bid, support that was there, that was possible, that existed for almost two years, and if we cannot restore that than even a referendum could not help.
“So we have two conditions, each necessary, none of them sufficient on their own.”
“I’m trying to facilitate that tomorrow, we have a few proposals.”
The aquatics complex is the bid’s marquee example of how a mid-size city can prepare for and host a major sport event in a short time frame. After Guadalajara, Mexico backed out of the project two years ago, Budapest stepped in at FINA’s request and constructed the state-of-the-art venue, keeping the project on budget, Fürjes said.
Deputy Mayor Alexandra Szalay-Bobrovniczky echoed Fürjes thoughts at the event, she said “If we can regain the support, then I think we will have hope.”
“There are also people who have questions about the Olympic bid – I suppose they are not against the bid but they have questions and I think that we should provide answers.
“We should hear that they have questions – it’s a good thing that they want to talk about the Olympics – it’s also good for us.
“We have very good answers, that’s why I hope we continue our Olympic bid.”
The referendum is a possibility because the political youth group Momentum Mozgalom behind the NOlimpia movement collected over 266,000 signatures, almost doubling the required 10 per cent response from voting-age city residents. If the election committee validates the petition, the following steps necessary could allow for a referendum as early as May.
Fürjes, who on Wednesday evening is scheduled to debate Momentum Mozgalom leader András Fekete-Győr at a university in Budapest, agreed that the referendum is a good thing.
“I will never say a bad word about the group collecting signatures and especially the people signing this initiative. They are Budapest people and they want to make their voice heard,” he said.
The bid Chair’s plans moving forward are specific, he said “it’s Important to be calm.”
“Prepare for nothing but be ready for anything.
“It’s a matter of a few weeks that we need to able to restore the willingness and support within the country.
“Then might come the referendum, but if within two weeks we can’t find the solutions, we can’t restore the consensus, then it will be impossible.
“We don’t have much time, that’s for sure.”
Budapest is competing with Los Angeles and Paris to host the Games in 2024. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will elect a winner September 13 in Lima, Peru.
A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.