A successful signature collection drive against Budapest’s candidacy to host the Olympic Games in 2024 has prompted the government to pass a resolution proposing that the capital and the Hungarian Olympic Committee withdraw the city’s bid.
About two months ago a new political group called Momentum started a campaign to collect signatures so as to secure a referendum on whether citizens wanted the 2024 Games. Momentum reportedly collected around 266,000 signatures, almost twice the number necessary.
In response the prime minister’s cabinet office said that hosting the Olympics was a “national cause which requires unity”. A statement insisted that the initial unity had vanished in recent months and the Games had “become a cause for party politics out of a national cause”, and put the blame on the opposition parties “going back on their earlier decision” to back the bid.
Zsolt Borkai, head of the Hungarian Olympic Committee, said “no other decision could have been made” on the bid given that it had been made clear during a session of the municipal assembly that “consensus cannot be restored among the political parties”. He said the committee would continue to do everything it can to bring the Games to Hungary in the future.
Reacting to the withdrawal of the bid, Momentum said the government has “betrayed” those who wanted a local referendum. “It is regrettable that the government… has betrayed 266,000 people by withdrawing the bid,” it said. “What is more, it betrayed even the advocates of the Olympic plan.”
Momentum said the signature drive was also motivated by the goal that no decision should be made on a gigantic investment project that would determine Hungary’s future for several decades without the public being asked in advance.
Green opposition LMP said Hungary would benefit from its withdrawal. MP Antal Csárdi added, however, that it was “unacceptable” the ruling Fidesz party had “ignored the will of the people” and was “still not willing” to call a referendum.
The government has “retired in a cowardly manner”, Socialist leader Gyula Molnár commented. Fidesz shrinks from holding a referendum on the Olympic bid because it “dreads” being defeated, Molnár said.
He noted that the government had earlier dropped a contested ban on Sunday shopping and had thrown out a decree that would have enabled “shady deals” around state-owned land, and insisted that “the opposition has defeated the government three times in a year by way of (initiating) a referendum”.
The government may “manipulate” the electoral system and could “fill the Election Committee with yes-men” but it cannot prevent voters from expressing their opinion, Molnar asserted.
Bid would have been ‘hopeless’ without ‘full unity’
Budapest’s bid would only have had a chance against those of its “strong, and moreover, unified” rivals if Hungary had been “fully unified” behind it, the government commissioner in charge of the bid, Balázs Fürjes, said.
“Over the coming weeks we would have been locked in a race with two internationally powerful and fully unified cities,” Fürjes told state news agency MTI. He said Hungary would have faced an uphill battle but could still have “come out of left field to take an upset victory” if it had been unified behind the bid. Unlike Hungary, the remaining candidates, Paris and Los Angeles, were “completely unified” behind their own bids.
He noted that France was preparing to hold a presidential election, despite which its political players had still remained unified behind Paris’s bid. The political scene in that country was filled with “fierce battles on a thousand issues” but “nobody has ever attacked” the Olympic bid “for political gain”.
Concerning Los Angeles, Fürjes said the US had just wrapped up a gruelling presidential campaign of its own. He said the Republicans and Democrats were now fighting side by side to secure the 2024 Olympics. Proposing Budapest’s withdrawal had been “the only responsible decision” in view of the “broken national unity” on the issue.
Jobbik blames Orbán, Fidesz, left wing
The radical nationalist Jobbik party said it blamed Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, ruling Fidesz and the leftist parties for the planned withdrawal of the bid. MP György Szilágyi slammed the government for having “eliminated” social dialogue in Hungary over the past six years. He said the government had raised corruption to the highest levels in the country and now “completely ignores the views of the people”.
Szilágyi said the blame for the Olympic about-face also lay with the Socialists and other opposition parties, as they had taken advantage of “the people’s anti-Fidesz sentiment” and had backed the signature drive “based on political principles”.
He said Jobbik was the only party capable of implementing the change Hungary needed, and the only party under whose governance the country could stage an Olympics “without having to fear that corruption would multiply its costs”.
The opposition Együtt party called on Orbán to repay all funds spent on the bid to the central budget. Leader Péter Juhász rejected remarks by the ruling parties that suggest an earlier, consensual support for the Olympic plans, and insisted that his party had opposed them all along.
Ruling Fidesz was aiming to “loot public funds and gain political benefits” through the Olympic project, Juhász said. He demanded an account of the HUF 27 billion spent so far and that the grand total should be re-allocated to the budget.
Márton Pataki, the head of Együtt’s Budapest chapter, said nearly HUF 16 billion from the grand total had been awarded without any competition, through tenders with a single valid bid each.
The leftist Democratic Coalition (DK) also demanded that the government and Budapest provide an account of its Olympic spending in the past two years. DK managing chairman Csaba Molnár said his party had never supported the Olympic plans, and insisted that the project would have served the benefit of “construction and PR companies close to Fidesz”.
Minister Overseeing the Prime Minister’s Office János Lázár said the government commissioner in charge of the bid would account for all funds spent, and the state secretary in charge of sports will report on the status of all related investments.
Olympic dream murdered, Orbán says
The campaign to collect signatures for a planned referendum on whether Budapest should host the 2024 summer Olympics ended up „murdering a dream“, Viktor Orbán said on radio. The decision to abandon the bid was motivated by a desire to save Hungary from shame, the prime minister told public radio Kossuth. Winning an Olympic bid requires unity, this is why there were no referendums held in Paris and Los Angeles, the other cities bidding to host the games, he said. The decision was to save Budapest the embarrassment of the bid being „absolutely trashed“ on the vote, which would have been inevitable after a plebiscite, he said. New political player Momentum is the „new SZDSZ“, Orbán said, citing the former Liberal coalition partner of the Socialist governments of 1994-1998 and 2002-2008. We can count on a „new MSZP-SZDSZ
coalition“, he said.