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Referendum bid places question marks against Budapest’s Olympic Games tilt

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is faced with the prospect of the bid race for the 2024 summer Olympic and Paralympic Games being reduced to two contenders after a threshold was met to stage a referendum on Budapest’s bid.

Hungarian political movement Momentum Mozgalum today (Friday) said it had collected more than 266,000 signatures on a petition against the bid, which its leader Andras Fekete-Gyor indicated would be enough to trigger a referendum. Budapest's Mayor Istvan Tarlos earlier told a news conference that, if a referendum was called, he would “seriously consider” a proposal to withdraw the bid.

Momentum last month launched the latest effort to force a referendum in Budapest against the bid. The body needed to collect 138,000 signatures within 30 days for a referendum to launch under the banner of “Do you agree that the Municipality of Budapest should withdraw its bid from the organisation of the 2024 summer Olympic and Paralympic Games?”

Momentum is opposed to the regime of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and feels the money being spent on the bid and the possible staging of the event would be better directed towards the five key areas of healthcare, education, housing, living standards and transport. “The past 30 days have been one of the most magnificent periods in the history of democracy in Budapest,” Fekete-Gyor said after the petition result today, according to the Reuters news agency.

The organising committee behind Budapest’s bid to stage the Games has consistently downplayed multiple threats of a referendum on the project and last month claimed that public support for the endeavour has increased significantly in Hungary over the past six months.

According to a nationwide public opinion poll carried out in December by Kód Kft, Budapest 2024 in January said support for the bid among the adult population of Hungary had risen from 51 per cent to 63 per cent in the past six months. The survey also stated that awareness of the bid had risen to 95 per cent of the population.

The Budapest Election Office will now decide whether a sufficient number of valid signatures – effectively amounting to 10 per cent of Budapest's population of around 1.4 million voters – has been collected to call a referendum. Prime Minister Orban's chief of staff, Janos Lazar, said on Thursday that the government was waiting on the outcome of the referendum initiative and would act accordingly. “The wishes of the people will be respected,” he said.

If a referendum is called and falls against Budapest 2024, it would be the third city to exit the bid process. A referendum also put paid to the German city of Hamburg’s ambitions, while Rome exited the race last year amid financial concerns and Boston’s initial American bid was replaced by that of Los Angeles. Paris is also currently in the bid race with Los Angeles and Budapest, with a decision set to be made in September.