Budapest 2024 Searches For Unity To Save Olympic Bid And Face Referendum

Reporting from Budapest, Hungary Officials behind Budapest’s bid to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024 are struggling to maintain the support of key government stakeholders three days after a petition revealed that almost 20 per cent of eligible city voters want a referendum to decide the fate of the bid.

Passers by read an Olympic bid poster at the Citadella in Budapest Hungary February 20, 2017 (GamesBids Photo)
Passers by read an Olympic bid poster at the Citadella in Budapest, Hungary February 20, 2017 (GamesBids Photo)

Over the weekend Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos said that he would consider withdrawing the bid as early as Wednesday amid concerns that Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, historically a staunch supporter of the project, might reconsider his backing.  The two leaders are scheduled to meet after the National Parliament and City Assembly discuss the status of the bid this week.

With a national election planned for next year, there are fears the the bid referendum could become a vote instead on Orban and his policies.  Tarlos refused to accept blame if the bid is lost, instead pointing his finger at Orban.

Budapest 2024 Chief Balázs Fürjes Sunday told Inforadio that the bid had no chance if it failed to regain unity of the project.  He said “this ship has sailed, it seems.”

“The Mayor is right, this issue belongs to all of us.

“The Hungarian Olympic family, the capital, Parliament, and the government have all made unified decisions. Now I see that cause ran aground, even though a 120-year-old Hungarian dream had a palpable chance of coming true.”

Due to the lack of unity, the bid said in a statement, all existing contracts have been suspended.

Discussion over the fate of the bid continue.


Results were surprising even to referendum proponents

Referendum advocates Momentum Mozgalom started the NOlimpia referendum campaign, and by Thursday’s petition deadline the group had collected over 266,000 signatures, almost twice the amount required to force a vote – a result that surprised the organizers themselves.

Miklos Hajnal, a student who is co-founder of the Momentum group told in Budapest Monday “the number of signatures was certainly surprising,  I thought, we’ll make some public appearances, maybe like 30 minutes or so, and compared to that it’s been crazy.”

He said the group had originally expect about 10 or 20 thousand signatures.

“I was certainly surprised by the attention we got, and it put a lot of responsibility on us in a way that it would have been a huge failure just to have collected ten thousand signatures.”

Responding to International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach’s remarks Saturday that the Momentum political group used the Olympic platform just to make a name for themselves, Hajnal didn’t deny the claim but said “it has become more political than we had wanted it to be.”

Balázs Fürjes, Chairman of Budapest 2024, speaking at the opening of the Visitors’ Centre in Budapest
Balázs Fürjes, Chairman of Budapest 2024, speaking at the opening of the Visitors’ Centre in Budapest

“That’s one side of the coin, the other is that if you are capable of doing such a campaign and you are not doing it you have to deal with that responsibility.

“If we hadn’t used this opportunity,” he said, “people could also blame us for not doing anything about it.”

He blamed the lack of campaigning by Budapest 2024 for the overwhelming support of the referendum.

“It’s not only that they weren’t keen on debating us, but they didn’t make any public appearance in the past 30 days.”

If the Budapest Elections Committee verifies the petition and the referendum moves forward, there will have to be a voter turnout of at least 50 per cent in order for the decision to be valid.  Also, as Momentum’s Hajnal pointed out, if someone signed the petition it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will vote in favour of retracting the bid.

Hajnal said his group wants the bid to stay in the race and the referendum to move forward.

He said “if you withdraw just because a group of of youngsters collect 260,000 signatures in a city that has 1.3 million people eligible to vote, that really means that you’re not confident in swinging public opinion, you are not confident in your own narrative, and you are spending billions of forints on a campaign that you are totally uncomfortable with in reality.”

Responding to Furjes comments Sunday he added “is it because we raised our voice and suddenly you drop everything?  You shouldn’t let the ship sail if you are the captain, and they were captain of quite a large ship.”

Budapest is competing with rivals Los Angeles and Paris to host the 2024 Games.  The winner will be elected at an IOC all-members meeting September 13 in Lima, Peru.

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of 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.

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