Olympics: Budapest drops 2024 Games bid

Andras Fekete-Gyor, leader of political movement Momentum which challenged Budapest's 2024 Olympic bid, submits the collected petition signatures on Feb 17, 2017.
Andras Fekete-Gyor, leader of political movement Momentum which challenged Budapest's 2024 Olympic bid, submits the collected petition signatures on Feb 17, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

BUDAPEST (AFP) - Budapest on Wednesday (Feb 22) became the latest city to drop out of the race to host the 2024 Olympic Games, after a petition garnered enough signatures to force a referendum on their bid.

“As the necessary unity in Budapest has been lost, the bid has lost all of its chances,” the government of right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced in a statement posted on its website.

“That is why the government of Hungary proposes to withdraw the candidacy from the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Budapest.”

The Hungarian capital’s withdrawal leaves the battle to stage the 2024 Games between Paris and Los Angeles.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is due to reveal the winner on Sept 13.

Hamburg – following a referendum – and Rome had already pull out of the contest to succeed 2020 hosts Tyokyo, both citing financial concerns.

Budapest’s decision was announced after the sports-mad premier, a big champion of the bid, held a meeting with Budapest mayor Istvan Tarlos on Wednesday evening.

“Budapest will formally ask the city council to withdraw Hungary’s candidacy in agreement with the government,” Tarlos was quoted as saying by the MTI news agency.

Hungary’s bid was dealt a fatal blow after a group of young activists collected over a quarter million signatures of Budapesters within a month to hold a referendum.

The Momentum Movement (MoMo) gathered some 266,000 signatures, almost double the threshold required to hold a ballot.

The so-called “Nolimpia” drive had been aided by several political parties critical of Orban.

The strongman had backed the bid, launched in 2015, as a reward for his country’s rich Olympic record: only nine countries have won more medals in the history of the Games.

Bid supporters said that Budapest, which unlike Paris or Los Angeles has never hosted the Games, was more suited than its rivals to the IOC’s low-cost ‘Agenda 2020’ strategy.

But critics slammed the cost involved in hosting the sporting festival and said taxpayers should decide how their money is being spent.

Recent polls have also shown clear majorities in favour of withdrawing the bid.

“The people should have been asked two years ago exactly to avoid such a situation,” said MoMo leader Andras Fekete-Gyor.

The mayor had previously said he would not “ignore the will of the people” in light of the referendum push.

Budapest’s city council, which holds a majority of Fidesz MPs, now needs to approve the bid’s withdrawal.

“I am sorry to see a dream dissolve,” the chief of the Hungarian Olympic Committee, Zsolt Borkai, said at a council meeting earlier on Wednesday.

When questioned by AFP, Paris-2024 choose not to comment on the development from the Hungarian capital.