Row brews between mayor and government over Olympics


Talking to media over the weekend, Budapest Mayor István Tarlós rejected suggestions by Fidesz MP Lajos Kósa that the city government would have to take full responsibility for Budapestʼs 2024 Summer Olympics bid, after almost double the amount of signatures needed for a referendum on the bid cast serious doubt over the chances of the city hosting the event.

Youth movement and fledgling political party Momentum Mozgalom submitted more than 266,000 signatures last Friday, almost twice as many as it needed to call for a referendum in Budapest on the capital’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics, and events have developed rapidly since then.

Given that the required minimum valid 138,526+1 signatures has almost certainly been comfortably exceeded, even with potential invalid signatures subtracted from the total 266,151 submitted, a referendum looks likely to be held among Budapest residents concerning the Olympic bid. With recent polls suggesting that only a minority of Budapest citizens support the bid, Hungarian media reports have speculated that governing party Fidesz could let the bid go and pass the buck to the capital for its organization.

This speculation was apparently confirmed by the words of MP Lajos Kósa, leader of the Fidesz parliamentary group, who told government-friendly Magyar Idők in an interview published Saturday morning that “the Olympics is a matter for Budapest; Olympic Games are organized by cities, and not by governments or parliaments.”

Speaking to daily Magyar Nemzet on Sunday, Budapest Mayor István Tarlós responded to Kósa by saying “it is sheer effrontery for Fidesz faction leader Lajos Kósa, with respect to the Olympic Games, to suggest shifting the responsibility onto Budapest, and the capital’s local council,” according to reports.  “If Budapest were to be responsible for it, why did the state have to spend money on all this, and why was a government commissioner needed for the Olympics, and why did the Hungarian Parliament vote for it by a great majority?” - the mayor asked in the interview.

In a separate instance addressing the matter on Sunday evening on  television news channel Hír TV, Tarlós said that suggesting Budapest would bear sole responsibility for the Olympic Games is “complete nonsense”, adding that “it was not our idea to hold the Olympics here,” according to reports.

Tarlós also rejected speculation that Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán would have offered him another term as mayor if he took the blame instead of the government. “What is important about this news? Nothing.” Talking to Magyar Nemzet on the same matter, he said “we do not play such games, and I will not put up with the capital being made responsible for the scandal.”

Tarlós, whose relationship with the Fidesz government has been reported to be deteriorating and who has engaged in several public spats with officials of the governing party, made his criticisms while talking to the media outlets of Lajos Simicska, the media mogul who has had a recent public fallout with Orbán.

Must have been a misunderstanding...

Kósa reacted to Tarlósʼs words by telling Hungarian news portal today that there had been a “a simple misunderstanding,” that the government must also deal with the Olympics, that he himself had previously consulted with the General Assembly of Budapest on developments, and that further consultations will obviously follow.

Kósa reiterated that neither the government nor Parliament can withdraw the Olympic bid, but only the capital. While declining to give a clear indication of whether he thinks the bid should be withdrawn, he conceded that “it appears our chances have been completely blown” as there is a lack of consensus behind the bid.

At the same time, Kósa denied that Orbán had said at a meeting of the Fidesz parliamentary group in Visegrád that the Olympics was not the business of Fidesz or the government, but of Budapest, claiming that “the prime minister did not talk about the Olympics at all in Visegrád.”

In addition, Kósa noted that Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, commented that Momentum Mozgalom has endangered the chances of Budapestʼs bid with its signature collection, and that a political group in Hungary with “ulterior motives” that “wanted to make a name” for itself is to blame for the referendum threat.

“The referendum is obviously considered by them to be a good tool to put themselves on the map of the political landscape in Hungary,” Bach told the Associated Press.

Olympic bid organizer suspends contracts

While a political feud appeared to be brewing over the Olympic Games, the company organizing Budapestʼs bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics announced on Saturday that it has suspended contracts with business partners after the initiative supported by opposition parties collected the required number of signatures for a referendum on the bid, Hungarian news agency MTI reported.

“Until it becomes clear whether or not unified support for the Budapest Olympics can be restored, Budapest 2024 Nonprofit is suspending its contracts and will neither place new orders nor use its budget allocation for the bid,” the organizer said. About half of the allocation for the bid has already been spent, the statement revealed, according to MTI.

“In the past weeks, an issue of shared national importance has become a dispute of party politics. The political unity supporting the Hungarian Olympics has dissolved, and without this common support Budapest does not have a chance of winning the Olympic bid against Paris and Los Angeles,” Budapest 2024 Nonprofit said.

“The International Olympic Committeeʼs Agenda 2020, a new reform for an economical Olympics program tailored to mid-sized big cities, gave Budapest a chance to organize the Olympics. Hungary has never been so close to being able to host the Olympic Games,” it added.

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