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Hungry for More

With four other strong bids already on the table, Elisha Chauhan asks whether Budapest’s campaign is strong enough to host the 2024 Olympics.

“It's either now or never,” says Zsolt Borkai, the man in charge of Hungary’s Olympic Movement.

The Hungarian Olympic Committee (MOB) president believes Budapest has its greatest chance of hosting the Games in 2024, with the IOC (International Olympic Committee)’s Agenda 2020 reforms coming into play for the first time during a summer Olympics bidding process since they were introduced last December. 

A strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement, Agenda 2020 is based on 40 recommendations mostly aiming to lower the costs involved with hosting the Games. Having been spearheaded by president Thomas Bach, the reforms were unanimously approved by the IOC in December last year.

Confirming its 2024 bid last month, Budapest has previously campaigned for the 1916, 1920, 1936, 1944 and 1960 editions, making Hungary the country that has bid most for the Games without winning the hosting rights. To add insult to injury, Hungary has won more Olympic medals than any other nation that has never hosted the Games, sitting in eighth place in the all-time summer medal list. 

“A lot of Hungarians think that we deserve to host the Olympics,” Borkai told SportBusiness International. “We have proved in the last 120 years [when the IOC was formed] that we’re really committed to the Olympic Movement by becoming one of the top 10 medal-winning countries of the summer Games, and yet we’re the only one in the top 10 to have not hosted the Olympic Games.”

European counterparts Rome, Hamburg and Paris are also vying to host the 2024 Games, with the French capital hoping to mark its centenary since hosting the event in 1924. 

While Boston has formally entered the bidding process to bring the summer Olympics back to the United States since Atlanta 1996. The deadline for NOCs (national Olympic committees) to submit applications to the IOC is September 15. 

With the other bidding cities all strong in sports hosting experience, geography and also a sentimental value to that of Paris’ bid, Budapest is going to need a unique reason to prove its worth, according to Peter Zsedely, founder and CEO of the Sportsmarketing Hungary agency. 

“There is yet to be a standout point for Budapest’s bid in order to separate it from frontrunners Boston and Paris. We are promoting the fact that we have a good sporting history and we are easily accessible in terms of geography, when in reality, many other bidders share the same selling points,” he adds.

Budapest may need to work even harder than other 2024 bidders to find a USP, in order to counter negative press already around the campaign after the Hungarian Paralympic Committee (MPB)’s entire supervisory board and president resigned following an investigation into financial irregularities. 

Zsolt Gomori gave up his presidency in June after he reportedly loaned almost $11,000 from the MPB to help pay the mortgage on his home. Probes into his salary and bonuses drew further criticism, leading to pressure from key sponsors such as soft drink company Coca-Cola for him to resign.

There is yet to be a standout point for Budapest’s bid to separate it from the frontrunners

Hidden Agenda

According to a recently commissioned government feasibility report, Budapest 2024 is projected to break even exactly with both cost and revenue totalling $2.963bn. A KPMG report, Olympics in Budapest: Dream or Reality?, claims the direct costs for a potential Budapest Olympics would be between $1.8bn and $3.6bn. 

The IOC, meanwhile, announced at the start of the year that it would contribute around $1.5bn to the organisation of the 2024 Games. With the addition of the recommendations in Agenda 2020, Borkai is not worried about the funding the Olympics should Budapest win the rights. 

“Agenda 2020 allows hosts to not only hold some events in other cities, but also in other countries. This means we could use a slalom kayaking venue in Slovakia because Hungary does not have any. Hungarian cities such as Miskolc, Debrecen, Gyor and Veszprem are also possible locations in addition to Budapest,” he says. 

Not everyone is as enthusiastic about Bach’s reforms though, as Zsedely believes that they do not recommend any innovative and economically efficient strategies, and that Budapest needs a more valid reason to host the 2024 Games. 

“Agenda 2020 only highlights responsible thinking and doesn’t say anything new,” he says. “For example, the reforms permit certain sports being held outside of the host city, but that was already allowed if you think about how sailing competitions at London 2012 were held on the south coast of England in Dorset. 

“It also suggests the use of temporary venues, which is another strategy that has already been applied in the past. Despite this, the NOC has been campaigning support of the 2024 bid on the basis of Agenda 2020.” 

Building Budapest 

Another agenda taking centre stage in Budapest is its 2030 regeneration plan. 

The IOC requires around 40,000 rooms for accommodation during the Olympics within a 50-kilometre radius of the candidate city; Budapest only has 18,500 rooms with 23,500 in total within an hour’s drive according to the KPMG report. So a key target in the 2030 agenda is to build more high-end hotels, says Borkai, who adds that a committee of experts has been put together to specifically tackle this accommodation issue. 

Other urban developments include much of Budapest’s transport links, especially from the airport to downtown. 

The proposed hub of the Olympics will be Csepel Island, where the athletes’ village and new Olympic stadium will be built. The Puskas Ferenc national stadium is already under redevelopment and will be complete in 2018 ahead of hosting three group games and one round of 16 game at the 2020 Uefa European Championship. 

A brand new swimming complex is also being built for Budapest’s hosting of the 2017 Fina (International Aquatics Federation) World Championships, which will be situated near the existing Alfred Hajos National Swimming Stadium on Margaret Island. 

After organising world championships for sports including wrestling (2013 and 2005), fencing (2013) kayak-canoe (2011), modern pentathlon (2008), rhythmic (2003) and artistic (2002) gymnastics, Borkai says “there is no question” about Hungary’s hosting experience. The country will also be holding its first IOC event with the summer European Youth Olympic Festival in 2017. 

“The Festival is crucial because, while Hungary has experience in hosting international events, it does not have sufficient experience in hosting multi-sport competitions,” adds Zsedely. “Further to this, it will boost the Olympic feel
in the country.”

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