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  • Budapest Opposition Laments Aborted Referendum


    03/03/17

    (ATR) Budapest 2024 being withdrawn “prevented a potential economic disaster” but stole an important voice away from the people, opposition leaders tell Around the Rings.

    Signatures collected by Momentum reached over 260,000 (Getty Images)
    Speaking after Budapest City Hall officially voted to end the bid, Daniel Corsano the head of content and marketing for Momentum's "NOlimpia" campaign, says defeating the Olympic bid was a pyrrhic victory. Securing the requisite number of signatures forcing a referendum on the Olympic bid was only one part of a larger goal of civic engagement for Momentum. Corsano says that pulling the bid immediately denied over 260,000 the right to have a say on it, with many of them pledging to vote in favor of Budapest 2024.

    In the wake of the decision, the IOC spokesman Mark Adams called the demise of a promising bid one “overtaken by local politics.” Adams would be correct, as Corsano says the “NOlimpia” campaign was one with broader objectives, in a country with limited chances for citizens to seize on them.

    “On the one hand, in just a few weeks, we have managed to persuade the people to take their future back into their hands,” Corsano said to ATR. “Together we prevented a potential economic disaster that could have resulted in unprecedented corruption. On the other hand, even though we were against hosting the games in 2024, our goal was not to have the government retract the bid but to let the people decide.”

    The successful referendum push came at a pivotal moment for both Budapest and the Olympic world. Domestically, it came as Budapest was about to launch its international bid promotion. Under IOC rules, Olympic bids can only begin promotion outside of its home country after a certain, predetermined date. Budapest organizers delayed promotion in the hopes of staving off the third referendum challenge for the bid.

    Outside of Hungary, the referendum challenge came in a politically tenuous time for the IOC. Five Olympic bids have been sunk by referendums in the past two bid cycles.

    After Momentum garnered nearly double the number of necessary signatures, political leaders in Hungary worked swiftly to “[desperately] attempt to save face,” according to Corsano. Hungarian President Viktor Orban called a meeting with Hungarian Olympic Committee (MOB) President Zsolt Borkai and Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos to decide the fate of the bid. A government spokesperson said that “unity [had] broken down,” around the bid and the leaders had decided to withdraw the bid. The MOB is expected to inform the IOC of Budapest’s withdrawal in the coming days.

    Signature collection in Budapest (Getty Images)
    “We believe that [leaders] got scared and, as usual, placed their immediate political gains above the will of the people they are supposed to govern,” Corsano said. “It was unfair to many people who signed our initiative because they supported deciding with a referendum but were in favor of hosting the Games. They would have deserved a chance to argue for their position.”

    Now, Momentum plans to continue its namesake and engage people from all over Hungary over the pressing issues ahead of 2018 parliamentary elections. “NOlimpia was only the beginning,” says Corsano, much to the chagrin of the Olympic Movement.

    “We started a public debate about a question that concerns all of us; this is quite rare in Hungary,” Corsano said. “[This success] is the success of all Hungarians who came together to work on a shared goal instead of being divided by ideological squabbles. The next step is to take our message to every part of Hungary.”

    Written by Aaron Bauer

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