Photographer: Balazs Mohai/Bloomberg

Budapest Withdraws Olympics Bid in Pre-Election Blow to Orban

  • Los Angeles and Paris remain in contention to host 2024 Games
  • Decision preempts referendum on rescinding Budapest candidacy

Budapest abandoned its efforts to host the 2024 Olympics, leaving just Los Angeles and Paris in the running in a blow to Prime Minister Viktor Orban before next year’s elections.

The withdrawal preempts a referendum forced by activists who united the fractured opposition to gather signatures against the bid, which the sports-eager premier had publicly supported. With Budapest a long-shot to host the Games, the group, called Momentum, made no secret that it was targeting a symbolic issue in an effort to scupper Orban’s chances of winning a third consecutive term in 2018.

“There’s no point in competing with two strong and unified bids,” government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said by phone on Wednesday, confirming earlier reports on the withdrawal by state broadcaster M1. The decision had been made at a meeting between Orban, Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos and the head of the Hungarian Olympic Committee, M1 reported.

Before Budapest, other cities abandoned their efforts to hold the Olympics, which have sown economic turmoil among previous hosts such as Athens and Rio de Janeiro. Hamburg dropped out after voters there vetoed the candidacy in a 2015 referendum and Rome pulled out last year after the city’s new mayor said she didn’t support the bid. The International Olympic Committee will meet in September in Lima to pick the winner.

Momentum, which is converting itself into a political party, contends that instead of the Games, more funding should go to hospitals and schools, whose dilapidated conditions have sparked street protests. Kovacs said the opposition had disrupted Hungary’s unity on the bid.

It’s not the first time in Hungary that a decision was made to preempt a referendum and nip a wave of opposition in the bud. Last year, Orban rescinded his government’s unpopular ban on Sunday store openings after the Supreme Court approved a referendum. The 53-year-old leader’s Fidesz party has more support than all of the opposition parties combined, according to the latest Median poll. The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for spring 2018.