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Budapest bid chief slams Olympics withdrawal

2017-02-23 18:38
Olympics (File)

Budapest - The chief of Budapest's Olympics bid committee has deplored the capital's withdrawal from the race to host the 2024 Games, after a referendum drive forced the city to drop its candidacy.

The decision, announced by the right-wing government on Wednesday evening, leaves Paris and Los Angeles to fight a neck-and-neck battle for 2024.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is due to vote for the host on September 13.

Boston, Hamburg and Rome had already pulled out of the contest to follow 2020 hosts Tokyo, all because of pressure over the cost.

"It frustrates me because we have never been so close... We dropped out in front of the finish line," Balazs Furjes, chairman of Budapest 2024, told the Hungarian news agency MTI.

"We had unity and we lost it," he added of the failed campaign.

Budapest City Council has to vote on the bid's withdrawal on March 2, before the committee can officially inform the IOC of its exit. The IOC said it would not comment until officially notified.

The move is a setback for the sports-mad premier Viktor Orban, a key backer of the bid. It comes just months after low voter turnout voided his anti-migrant referendum aimed at rejecting a troubled European Union refugee quota plan.

Hungary's Olympic bid unravelled after a group of young activists collected over a quarter million signatures demanding a referendum, almost double the threshold required to trigger a ballot.

Critics of the Olympics drive, fearing spiralling costs and corruption, said taxpayers should decide how their money is spent

"I work in sports... but even if my heart was beating for the Hungarian Olympics, my mind said no," Eszter Balatoni, 37, told AFP in Budapest on Thursday.

"There are so many other things that need financing in this country, like education and healthcare."

Momentum Movement (MoMo), which organised the petition, said it never sought to drop the initiative but had merely wanted a public debate.

"We have pushed back the government… but we have also missed an opportunity for discussion," the group's leader Andras Fekete-Gyor said at a press conference on Thursday.

Some locals expressed frustration at the cancelled bid.

"The majority of costs would have been paid by the IOC. These young liberals have destroyed the dreams of several million Hungarians," businessman Vilmos Lisztes, 47, told AFP.

The so-called "Nolimpia" drive had been aided by opposition parties critical of Orban, prompting the government on Wednesday to accuse them of turning the matter "into a political party affair".

Observers said Orban and his ruling Fidesz party had no choice but to withdraw the bid because of the lacked of public support, which is a key criteria for the IOC when making its decision.

"A lost referendum would have given too much of a blow to Fidesz, one year ahead of the general elections," analyst Zoltan Cegledi told Hungarian media.

The Paris and Los Angeles campaigns made no immediate comment. They were already considered frontrunners for the September vote to be held in Lima.

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