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