BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s bid organizers for the 2024 summer Olympics in Budapest plan to engage the public in dialogue to quell a growing popular movement opposing the campaign to host the Games.
Budapest, one of three cities competing to stage the event, is bidding to become the first Eastern European country to host the summer Games in the post-Communist era and is hoping to fulfill the International Olympic Committee’s Agenda 2020 frugal Games program.
It remains in the contest and will submit the third and final candidature file along with rivals Paris and Los Angeles on Feb. 3.
The Hungarian government and the city of Budapest have both supported the bid vocally, but the city rejected calls for a referendum in 2015.
Plebiscites are usually risky for Olympic bids. Hamburg pulled out of the race after a negative referendum result in 2015 while Rome mayor Virginia Raggi ended her city’s bid last year to honor an election promise.
In Budapest, a nascent political party called Momentum Movement has launched a month-long campaign to collect 138,000 signatures needed to force a referendum. They have collected close to 100,000 in less than two weeks.
“Right now, signatures are being collected in Budapest to force a referendum aiming to withdraw the bid,” the Budapest 2024 bid committee said in an emailed statement.
“This is a challenge that ultimately will make the bid stronger. In this period the bid team focuses on domestic dialogue taking place in our capital city.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has backed the bid wholeheartedly, but on Monday he said he would wait and see what the people of Budapest had to say.
“If the people want to decide about (the Olympics) then they will decide,” Orban told a press briefing. “The government will accept that it would make a decision in the fashion that people want it to.”
Although it opposes the 2024 bid, Momentum does not want to kill off the idea of Budapest hosting the Games some time in the future. The party advocates spending the multi-billion dollar budget elsewhere, and postponing the Olympic dream until Hungary is more prosperous.
“Hungary does not need an Olympic Games in 2024,” Momentum chairman Andras Fekete-Gyor told Reuters in his group’s headquarters in a decrepit central Budapest basement.
“The Olympics is a great thing, so we can organize it in 2036 if you want but we have to use this money for other purposes.”
Momentum’s pop-up stands, strewn all around central Budapest, are drawing in a constant throng of people signing to demand a chance to vote.
“It is ridiculous that they didn’t ask the people,” Fekete-Gyor said. “This is a mega project in Hungary, and they just forgot about the people. It seems (like) it is going to be a Fidesz Olympics and not the Olympics of Hungary.”
Passers by stopped at a stand in a central Budapest underpass seemingly every minute on a recent afternoon.
“I am mighty pissed off that the government never asked the people but went ahead and decided on its own, clearly out of some self-interest,” said student Andras Eszes after signing the sheet. “I hope they collect the required signatures.”
Judit Nagy, a 60 year-old housewife, stopped at the stand to have a conversation but did not give her signature.
“I do think this would be a great investment for Hungary,” she said. “Many people would profit from it, many people would be able to find work, earn their living, and the investment would stay here afterwards if they manage it right.”
Editing by Pritha Sarkar