The Hungarian government announced late on February 22 that it will withdraw Budapest’s bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games citing “a lack of national unity”.
The move represents a rare reversal for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist Fidesz government, which has faced a mostly weak and divided opposition since returning to power in 2010. However, it is reminiscent of a climb down last year over a ban on Sunday shopping. In both instances, Fidesz has chosen discretion rather than face voters in a referendum.
"There is no point dragging out the process, like strudel dough,” Budapest mayor Istvan Tarlos said after a meeting with Orban and the Hungarian Olympic Committee to decide the fate of the bid. As it has become clearer that a majority oppose hosting the games, the government has been steadily backpedaling.
The reversal follows a campaign led by the nascent political movement Momentum, which collected the signatures of over 260,000 Budapest residents in support of a referendum on the bid. In the course of the month-long "Nolimpia" petition drive, national sentiment has turned against the government's urge to host the Olympics, as many came around to Momentum’s argument that national coffers would be better used to finance Hungary's creaking health system and underperforming schools.
In the wake of the announcement, a Momentum spokesman described the cancellation as "cowardly". The move takes away the democratic right of Budapest residents to vote on the project, the spokesman claimed.
The government, meanwhile, attempted to save face by blaming the opposition. “The Olympic Games are an issue of national importance for Budapest and for Hungary,” it said in a statement. “In recent months, however, the unity which existed earlier has been dismantled, and the Olympics has become a party-political issue. The opposition parties that have backed out of their previous commitment must be held responsible.”
The withdrawal of Hungary leaves Los Angeles and Paris as the only remaining cities bidding to host the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in 2024. The pair will face off in a vote of the International Olympic Committee in Lima, Peru, in September.