Budapest withdraws bid to host 2024 Olympic Games

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Budapest ended its bid to host the 2024 Olympics on Wednesday, citing a lack of unity after a political movement opposing the move collected more than a quarter of a million signatures to force a referendum on the issue.

FILE PHOTO: The Hungarian Parliament is seen with the Olympic logo at a promotional spot as the Hungarian capital bids for the 2024 Olympic Games, in central Budapest, Hungary, January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh/File Picture

Running alongside powerhouses Los Angeles and Paris, Budapest had been considered a long-shot candidate, pinning its hopes on the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Agenda 2020 initiative aimed at promoting less lavish events.

The bid had turned into a political issue, however, a year before the country holds parliamentary elections.

Polls showed a growing number of Hungarians were against the bid, and a group of young professionals and students took to the streets and began campaigning for a referendum.

This “Momentum” movement considered a bid for the Games an unaffordable splurge that would invite corruption, already a big problem in the central European country.

Budapest’s City Council voted formally on Wednesday to annul the bid and ask the Hungarian Olympic Committee (HOC) to notify the IOC about the withdrawal.

HOC Chairman Zsolt Borkai, a former deputy of the ruling Fidesz party, was not immediately available to say when that step is expected. The government and Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos said they wanted to put the issue behind them as quickly as possible.

Budapest mayor Istvan Tarlos had rejected calls for a referendum on the issue in 2015, saying people had inadequate information about the bid, even though a 1,372-page feasibility study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers was already publicly available at that time.

The Momentum movement had collected enough signatures to force a referendum on the issue, but the Budapest city council, HOC and the government moved quickly to end the bid themselves.

“It was not our idea to host the Olympic Games in Budapest,” Tarlos told the city council. “We started it at the HOC’s request.”

“But what the (opposition) has done about the Olympics is an outright failure of character. They just created this circus to score political points.”

Ferenc Karsay, a Fidesz mayor in southern Budapest, where the Olympics would have taken place, compared the political battles around the Games to “well-poisoning”.

“A few months before the IOC’s final decision, and a year before the elections, you purposely sacrificed the Olympics,” Karsay told the opposition.

The Socialist opposition unsuccessfully sought at the last minute to force a referendum after all.

“It would only be fair for the city council to reject this motion and leave the decision about whether to host the Olympics to the voters,” Socialist council member Erzsebet Nemeth said.

Editing by Hugh Lawson