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Paper: Budapest 2024 Olympic Bid Could Face Referendum

FILE - Ice-floes float under the floodlit Chain Bridge and the Royal Palace in the Castle of Buda in Budapest, Hungary.

Hungarian political movement Momentum has collected more than 200,000 signatures on a petition against Budapest's 2024 Olympics bid, raising the prospect of a referendum, daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet reported on Friday.

A Momentum spokesman declined comment to Reuters on the report, although they have scheduled a news conference for 1230 GMT on Friday, while spokespersons for both the government and bid organizers also opted against making statements.

Momentum, launched by a group of students born around 1989 when communism collapsed in Hungary, will finish collecting signatures at the conclusion of a month-long campaign later on Friday and submit them to the Budapest election committee.

The authority will then rule whether a sufficient number of valid signatures have been collected to call a referendum in the city, which is competing against Paris and Los Angeles for the right to host the 2024 Games.

Budapest is bidding to become the first Eastern European country to host the Summer Games in the post-Communist era and is hoping to fulfill the International Olympic Committee's Agenda 2020 strategic roadmap focused on sustainability, credibility and youth..

The question Momentum wants to ask in the referendum would be: "Do you agree that the Budapest municipality should withdraw its bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympics?"

The Hungarian government and the city of Budapest have both supported the bid vocally but plebiscites are usually risky for Olympic hopefuls.

Hamburg pulled out of the race after a negative referendum result in 2015, while Rome mayor Virginia Raggi ended her city's bid last year to honor an election promise.

Respecting opinion

A Jan. 25-31 poll conducted by the Zavecz Research institute for news website and published last week showed that 51.95 percent of Budapest citizens would vote against the Olympics, up from the 31.7 percent measured in September.

In a separate survey commissioned by the bid organizers in early December, 55 percent of Budapest residents backed the hosting of the Games.

Prime Minister Viktor 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.

"Government officials, including myself, have only said one thing regarding the collection of signatures: the wishes of the people will be respected," Lazar told a news conference.

Momentum, who have been assisted in the campaign by leftist and opposition parties, advocates spending the huge budget for the Games on issues such as healthcare and education, and postponing any further bids until Hungary is more prosperous.

"If a referendum is called, then we will boost our campaign hard. The important thing is that people should be able to decide," Janos Mecs, 25, a leading member of the movement said at a campaign stand in a Budapest square earlier this week.

The stand was erected against the backdrop of a huge pro-Olympics billboard hanging from one of the buildings, where 57-year-old entrepreneur Janos Pasztor braved the chilly weather to add his signature to the campaign.

"First this money should be spent on healthcare so that if I break my leg, I could get to a hospital instead of being taken care of on the street," he said.

The hosts for the 2024 Olympics will be announced at an IOC Session in Lima, Peru in September.