Failed Referendum Run A “Damp Squib” Budapest 2024 Olympic Bid Claims But Proponent Vows To Continue

A referendum over Budapest’s bid to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games was abandoned by its proponent Tuesday, and the opportunity is set to expire after the required 140,000 petition signatures were not collected within the allowed period.

Budapest 2024 Heroes’ Square Stadium to host Cycling and Athletics events (Budapest 2024 Depiction)

Budapest 2024 Heroes’ Square Stadium to host Cycling and Athletics events (Budapest 2024 Depiction)

Investigative journalist Katalin Erdélyi had her question for a municipal referendum approved October 6 by a city board, but had to wait 15 days for any possible appeals.  After no appeals were received, proponents were to receive 30 days to collect signatures from 10 per cent of the population (about 140,000), but Erdelyi reportedly claimed that late notice from the authorities did not give her the time needed to complete the preparations.

As a result, her question “Do you agree that the Budapest Municipality should withdraw its application to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024?” will not be asked of Budapest residents.

A statement by Budapest 2024 said “organizers failed to follow up and did not collect the signature collection forms that were specially printed for their campaign.”

Investigative Journalist Katalin Erdélyi (Átlátszó.hu)

Investigative Journalist Katalin Erdélyi (Átlátszó.hu)

When asked by last month Erdélyi said she was confident that she could collect the signatures within the required time frame, she said “I wouldn’t have started if I hadn’t believed in it.”

Erdélyi also said that she would keep trying to get a referendum approved moving forward, at both the municipal and national levels.  A new national referendum application has already been filed and a decision is expected mid-January, and if that is approved the journalist will have 120 days to collect 200,000 signatures.

A similar national referendum question was filed earlier this year by Erdélyi but was eventually rejected by the Kuria, Hungary’s Supreme Court, in February.

The journalist is not backed by any formal organization, and she told last month that Hungarians should have the right to have their say in the matter.

“I think the Olympic Games are too expensive for Hungary, and Hungarian people have the right to decide if they want it or not,” she said.

“Our government spent a huge amount of public money on a referendum about the EU refugee quota.

“That referendum was about a question that was already decided by the EU, and turned out to be invalid because of the voter turnout.  However, Hungarians have never had a say in taking a Russian loan for the Paks nuclear plant expansion, nor did they have a say about submitting an application for organizing the Olympic Games.”

Budapest officials hailed the outcome as a small victory as the bid sets to enter a critical period of it’s campaign with the submission of final bid documents due in February and site evaluation visits scheduled for May.

“It’s a good day for the bid,” László Vajda, Vice-Chairman of Budapest 2024 said.

“The question of the referendum was raised, it was accepted and it ran its natural course.

“Every democratic opportunity has been given to a very small minority who wished to validate their opinion, despite overwhelming support from a clear majority supporting the Olympic Bid at the last independent polls. It’s quite obvious now that this referendum has turned out to be a damp squib.”

“It is of course the democratic right of every citizen of Budapest to seek a referendum on a matter of public policy in the city and we entirely respect that right,” Balázs Fürjes, Chairman of Budapest 2024 said.

“We strongly encourage public debate and are delighted by the support and encouragement that we continue to receive.”

“This is a bid that enjoys strong and widespread support among ordinary Hungarians nationwide. Two-thirds of Hungarians would describe themselves as ‘proud’ or ‘very proud’ to see Budapest host the Games. There are clear indicators that this sentiment runs across the full cross-section of society, including urban and rural communities.”

Hamburg withdrew its 2024 bid last year after narrowly losing a city-wide referendum while Boston’s bid for the Games never made the launch pad after public support was found to be critically low.  Rome suspended itself from the competition last month after losing city support.

Budapest is competing with Los Angeles and Paris for the right to host the Games in 2024.  The decision will be made at an International Olympic Committee session to be held in Lima, Peru September 13.

About Robert Livingstone

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.