Mon, Feb 20, 2017 - Page 12 News List

Budapest firm suspends operations amid turmoil

AFP, BUDAPEST

The firm in charge of Budapest’s troubled bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games on Saturday said it is suspending operations as long as uncertainty sparked by a referendum drive surrounds the application.

One day after a civil organization said it had collected enough signatures to trigger a referendum on the bid, Budapest 2024 Nonprofit said it was putting all its contracts on hold.

“As long as it is unclear whether unified support for the Budapest Olympics can be restored, [the firm] is suspending the contracts it has signed, will not place new orders and will not draw down funds allocated to the bid,” the firm said in a statement sent to Hungarian news agency Magyar Tavirati Iroda.

“Without unified backing from politics and society at large, Budapest has no chance of winning,” it added.

Up against Paris and Los Angeles, the Hungarian capital had been the outsider in the race to host the 2024 Games, but the referendum effort has landed a possibly fatal blow to its prospects.

More than 250,000 signatures were collected within a month by the Momentum Movement, a group of mostly young activists, aided by several political parties critical of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of the bid’s main backers.

About 266,000 signatures were gathered, the group said, almost double the threshold required to hold a ballot.

Momentum Movement leaders argued that a referendum should determine if people wanted taxpayer money to be spent, for example, on hospitals and schools rather than on hosting the Olympics.

Authorities have 45 days from Friday to verify the signatures and give the green light to the mayor to declare a referendum date.

However, Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos on Friday said he could swiftly bring a motion to the city council to withdraw the bid rather than hold a referendum.

A decision on next steps would likely be made on Wednesday or Thursday, Tarlos later told reporters after talks with Orban.

Earlier, Hamburg, Germany — following a referendum — and Rome also dropped out of the Olympics 2024 hosting contest, both citing financial concerns.

The International Olympic Committee is to decide between the candidate cities on Sept. 13 in Lima.

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