Viszontlátásra Budapest!

Once again, we thought it couldn’t get any worse. Again, we were wrong. And I’m not talking about Doping this time… It’s the 2024 Olympic host city election process and with it both the IOC and the Movement in general who have received another major blow.

Hungary’s capital Budapest now finds itself in an illustrious and unfortunately growing circle together with Boston, Hamburg and Rome, as contenders who have withdrawn from the race, either before it started or half way through. This time, things are a bit different than in the Roman affair. While Rome’s withdrawal was solely based on the mayor’s decision not to support the bid any further, most major stakeholders in the Budapest campaign at least appear to have been involved and even public opinion polling taken into account. The move comes after an intiative received double the required number of signatures to trigger a referendum. Other polls suggested that only 33 % of Hungarians were unequivocally in favour of bidding, while 50 % wanted Budapest to withdraw immediately.

Arguably this can be seen as a significant defeat for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his ruling Fidesz-party. For Orbán, even though himself at times only cautiously enthusiastic about the Games, the project had been a matter of national and, to some extent, personal political prestige. When it became apparent that it would probably fail, he reacted in a way like most politicians of his ‘stature’ would have done: he blamed others for it…

In this case opposition parties and groups, primarily the, both with regard to its history and the age of its members, rather young movement ‘Momentum Mozgalom’, who have been experiencing a remarkable gain in popularity recently. These groups are now being accused of inciting a ‘political campaign’ against the government and merely using the Olympics as a pretence.

In my opinion, two things should be made clear here:

  1. A strictly ‘political campaign’ by opposition groups against a government, generally speaking should not be seen as something dangerous or abnormal in any democratic state.
  2. They are correct in stating that the decision to withdraw was made under ‘political pressure’. But not because any critical voices ‘destroyed’ the bid through undue campaigning. No, it was the bid committee or perhaps, realistically speaking, the Prime Minister himself who took a political decision. A defeat in a public referendum, which had become more and more likely, might have meant the most serious blow to Orbán’s premiership ever. And in that case, he would have had a really hard time playing the ‘blame game’. The defeat would have been his and his alone…

With Budapest we have lost perhaps not a clear frontrunner in the election race, but a very promising candidate with lots of interesting aspects and ideas that might (and should) still influence future bids. Budapest promised to hold Games on a smaller scale, a bit more ‘back-to-basics’, much like the Hamburg- and Boston-Campaigns envisioned, and clearly connected to and supported by the IOC’s Agenda 2020. The city itself has hosted and will be hosting several international events, including the upcoming FINA World Aquatics Championships 2017. And the beautiful scenery and vibrant cultural life of this pearl of the Danube is always worth a visit (note to myself: that’s something I should really see for myself very very soon…).

But it doesn’t help to lament what we, Olympic fans, might have lost. We have to look ahead. There are only two horses remaining in the race: Paris and Los Angeles. What will be the dominating factor for the remaining months until the final decision? Fear or hope? Uncertainty or confidence?

For Paris, the upcoming presidential election may be an incalculable factor, while in the US nothing at all seems to be certain right now… But on the other hand, both cities are world class, major tourist destinations and experienced hosts of top level events. And, after all, assuming that none of these two will still withdraw, the prospect of having the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad in either the ‘City of Stars’ or the ‘City of Love’ still sounds quite promising…

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