Budapest

NOlimpia: Budapest against the Olympics

Article published on Feb. 27, 2017
Article published on Feb. 27, 2017

A group of young Hungarians just finished a successful campaign calling on the city of Budapest to drop its 2024 Olympic bid. The movement, which has long-term ambitions of becoming a political party, says that apart from protecting Budapest from the expenses of the games, it wants Hungarians to take back democratic control over their own lives. [OPINION]

After Hamburg, Boston and Rome have withdrawn their bids to host the Summer Olympic Games in 2024, the NOlimpia campaign led the charge in arguing that it was Budapest's turn. The aim of the organisers, a movement of young Hungarians called Momentum Mozgalom, a  was to collect 138,000 signatures from the inhabitants of the Hungarian capital so that a local referendum can be held on the issue. Despite the general political apathy and the severe weather in January, they collected over 260,000 signatures.  However, this campaign was not the first attempt for a referendum: the Supreme Court previously declined the former petitions for a referendum on the national level.

The reason so many Hungarians were against the event is not obvious at first glance; despite never being chosen to select them, Hungary is one of the most successful countries in the history of the Olympics, with 175 gold medals to their name. Some claim that the new Agenda 2020 campaign for the organisation of cheaper Olympic games is virtually aimed at Hungary. But in the corrupt, autocratic land of the Victor Orbán, an Olympics promoted by the government could be a tool to draw voters' attention from more serious economic and social issues; something that's less of a problem for the other candidate cities, Los Angeles and Paris.

In contrast to Budapest, these cities also have the advantage of already having most of the required sport facilities and accommodations. The campaign also appears to be a personal issue for Orbán, who is a well-known sports fan, and whose government has already spent irrational amount of revenues on sports, while other public services including education and the healthcare system are seriously underfunded and incapable of performing their functions.

The leaders of Momentum Movement often referred to the Greek example, since the hosting of the games in Athens tossed the country into long years of economic recession and political turmoil. The case of Hungary is quite similar: a small country with a weak economy and a high risk of corruption is surely incapable of hosting profitable Olympics, as the expenditures are nearly always larger than originally calculated, even in less corrupt countries. Indeed, Budapest's estimated expenditure had swelled to about 3000 billion forints (around €9 billion) - a fortune in a country where schools and hospitals can't afford toilet paper.

If the 2017 FINA World Championship for water sports (the largest sports-event ever hosted by Hungary) is any indication, it is obvious that Hungary would have been bankrupt after 2024. The event is due to take place on July, but the costs are already four times higher than they were in the original plans. The Budapest Olympics bid was equally full of flaws; for instance, it didn't take into account the normally huge expenses required for security.

One particularly important and characterising feature of Momentum Mozgalom is that most of the members of its presidency are under 30 years old and have spent some time working or studying in Western Europe. Momentum, which plans to become an officially recognised party and take part in Hungary's 2018 elections, will be a pro-EU party; unsurprising since its members grew up taking advantage of an open-border Europe. The NOlimpia campaign was their first public act, designed to raise consciousness on five issues, one for each of the five Olympic rings – the education, the health care system, housing, infrastructure and living standards – so that they can also emphasize a positive message. The need for a viable and authentic oppositional party for Hungary is so great, that it's not hard to see them succeeding.