Tag Archives: Hungarian Olympic Committee

Momentum’s anti-Olympics drive is already a success

A day after I wrote a post on the anti-Olympics drive there was an encounter at one of the collecting stations which, to my mind, starkly illustrates the attitudinal differences between those young people who established a new political movement called Momentum and the older generation of MSZP politicians.

Tibor Szanyi, an MSZP member of the European Parliament, decided to reap some political benefit by appearing on a news clip as he is signing the referendum petition. Apparently, he informed the Momentum activists of his intentions. When he showed up, cameraman and all, András Fekete-Győr, the president of Momentum, appeared and gave Szanyi a piece of his mind about the do-nothing attitude of Szanyi’s party. Party politicians come here for a media opportunity instead of going out and helping to collect signatures. Szanyi was visibly embarrassed and acted like a little boy who had just been scolded by his father. Once he had recovered from the shock, however, he decided to strike back. In a totally unnecessary retort Szanyi went so far as to compare the leaders of Momentum to Fidesz in their “manipulation of the news.” And he called them “asphalt hamsters,” whatever this term means. Not the best beginning for cooperation between professional politicians and the civil activists. I share Fekete-Győr’s anger when I see MSZP’s total inability (and unwillingness) to engage the population on any level save through TV and radio interviews.

Momentum activists are conducting a campaign that so far has been very successful, especially if one compares it to earlier abortive attempts by parties and individuals. In less than two weeks the Momentum activists, with the help of LMP, collected over 80,000 of the requisite 138,000 signatures. Yesterday László Sólyom, the former president of the country, signed the petition, as was reported by some readers of Index who spotted him.

Source: Pesti Srácok / Photo Péter Gyula Horváth

The conservative József Eötvös Group organized a discussion on the economic effects of holding the 2024 Olympics in Hungary. The main speaker was a “sport economist” who is in favor of the project, yet even he had to admit that if the Olympic Games were held in Budapest, they most likely would not be profitable. In fact, from his speech it became clear that the estimates of PricewaterhouseCoopers are unrealistic because the figures they presented cover only the “organizational costs.” The cost of the actual investments, like buildings, the Olympic village, stadiums, and infrastructure, are not included in the overall cost because, the eager organizers claim, these investment projects would have had to be built anyway and, in any case, they were already included in future plans.

So far Viktor Orbán is putting on a good face about Momentum’s NOlimpia drive. Only yesterday ATV learned from Fidesz sources that he believes that, even if there is a referendum, supporters of the Games will be in the great majority. As one self-assured Fidesz leader told ATV, “for the time being we are just sitting and smiling. We are not afraid.”

Well, perhaps Fidesz leaders spoke too early because today a new Medián poll was released. It shows that Fidesz’s assumptions about a pro-Olympic public in Budapest are based on faulty data. This is what happens when polling questions are being manipulated to achieve the desired results. While all the earlier polls showed little support for the Games, the one conducted by a pro-Olympic group found overwhelming support for holding the Olympics in Hungary.

Yes, there is every reason to believe that if a referendum were held, the anti-Olympics folks would be in the majority. According to Medián, 68% of the people don’t support holding the games in Budapest because it would cost too much and the money should be used for “more useful” things. Only 26% think that, “regardless of the cost,” the Olympic Games would strengthen “the bond that connects members of the nation and national pride.” Nine percent of those polled had already signed the petition, and 33% said they are planning to do so even if the number of signatures collected is multiples of those required. Sixty percent of them support the idea of holding a referendum on the question. If a referendum were held today, 54% of the Budapest voters would opt for withdrawing the Hungarian Olympic Committee’s application. Among those who are certain they would vote at such a referendum, the percentage is even higher, 59%.

The same Fidesz informant who told ATV that they were not worried one bit about Momentum’s campaign added that, even if the young activists succeed, there is always the weapon of a government counter-campaign in favor of the games. Of course, this is exactly what would happen. But I’m not at all sure in light of what I am reading about the politics of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) whether it would be worth the effort. I have very little knowledge of the inner workings of the IOC, but according to rumors, the committee “might break with established practice by naming the host-cities of both the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games when it gathers in Peru in September.” The reason for such a decision is that, despite the reforms introduced to lower the cost and make hosting the games more attractive, very few cities have applied, and those which had shown an initial interest later changed their minds, like Rome or, after a referendum, Hamburg. Currently, both Paris and Los Angeles are vying for the 2024 games; in fact, Paris is so adamant that at one point the French sports leaders announced that it is either 2024 or nothing. Perhaps, the officials of IOC figure, they could convince one of the two to accept the later date. In that case, Budapest’s chances are close to nil.

The news of the referendum drive in Budapest certainly reached the headquarters of IOC and may have strengthened their resolve to name the host countries for both the 2024 and 2028 games in September. As a sports reporter for insidethegames.biz writes, such a decision would be wise “since it emerged that Budapest, the outsider in what is currently a three-horse race, would not launch its international promotion campaign at the beginning of this month as planned, due to a resurgence of the referendum calls that seem to have been lingering in the background almost from day one.” The author further speculates that IOC’s decision would be made easier “if a handy referendum put a spanner in Budapest’s works.”

So, even though Fidesz leaders might be smiling and feeling very sure of themselves, the Hungarian Olympic Committee (MOB) is a great deal more cautious. Moreover, the very fact that an anti-Olympic drive began in Budapest has already damaged Hungary’s chances. Medián’s poll results will not help the Hungarian cause either. If the inhabitants of both Paris and Los Angeles are so gung-ho, the IOC will think twice before awarding the Games to a city where two-thirds of the population don’t want them.

Momentum’s political success is already palpable. That’s why I can’t understand why the two largest opposition parties on the left didn’t rush to support its initiative. NOlimpia is obviously a popular cause and promotes political action. I think that MSZP and DK made a mistake.

February 1, 2017

Holding the Olympic Games in Budapest: Viktor Orbán’s obsession

In the last week or so we have been learning more about the cost of Viktor Orbán’s dream project: to host the Olympic Games in 2024.

It’s hard to know exactly when he first entertained the idea. We know that by the time he became prime minister in 1998 he was already plotting to hold the 2012 Olympics in Budapest. Luckily Orbán lost the election in 2002, and the following year the Medgyessy government had the good sense to withdraw Hungary’s bid. But a lot of money had already been spent on the project, which was unrealistic from the start. What a disappointing year it had to have been for Orbán. No fancy palace for the first family in the Castle District and no chance of hosting Olympic Games in Budapest. But Orbán never gives up on his pet projects. He just may live in the Sándor Palace one day. And he is still working hard on his Olympic dream.

MTI / Photo: Tibor Illyés

MTI / Photo: Tibor Illyés

Over the course of the last two years, in great secrecy, a team prepared Hungary’s bid. Until recently no one managed to get any information out of the government concerning the amount of money that has been spent so far. A few figures have been known for some time. For example, $36 million was spent just on the bidding process, which included feasibility studies and projected estimates. The total cost of $2.8 billion that PricewaterhouseCoopers came out with is considered by Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College, who is an expert on the economics of the Olympic Games, simply “fanciful.” For recent Olympics “the cost runs from about $15 billion to $30 billion.” He carefully calculated the costs and the possible benefits of holding the Games and came to the conclusion that they were financial suicide for most cities.

Holding the games in Budapest has many opponents, mostly of course from the ranks of the opposition. They even tried to hold a referendum on the question, which was rejected by both the government and the Fidesz-majority City of Budapest. The Kúria followed suit. If the government is at all worried about the outcome of a possible referendum, it makes sure that it will never be held.

In early August Publicus Research published a poll which found that the majority of respondents didn’t want to have the Olympics held in Hungary. Seventy-five percent of them considered the cost too high and 64% thought that the country is too poor for such an extravagance. Almost 60% believed that the money spent on the Olympics would only enrich entrepreneurs close to Viktor Orbán. Two-thirds would spend the money on healthcare and education instead.

After quite a few months and a lot of effort, journalists finally got some information about the money that has been spent already, which is staggering. As 444.hu aptly declared, those figures should convince the government that “it would be time right now to abandon the whole affair.” The money flows through an office which began functioning in 2015 called Budapest 2024 Nonprofit Zrt., owned jointly by the Magyar Olimpiai Bizottság (MOB) and the City of Budapest. The office is well endowed by the government. This year alone it has a budget of close to $36 million. Next year Budapest 2024 will most likely receive the same amount. The nonprofit spends a lot of money on itself. For example, it moved into the Eiffel Palace, one of the notorious purchases of the Hungarian National Bank, which is perhaps the most expensive piece of real estate in the whole city.

The estimate of $2.8 billion, which Zimbalist considered to be “fanciful,” doesn’t include such items as new bridges across the Danube, new streetcar lines, and a new railroad bridge. These items, according to estimates, add an additional $7.2 billion. So, we have already reached the lowest possible figure of $10 billion that Zimbalist was talking about. This figure is 8% of Hungary’s current annual GDP. Moreover, if this is their own estimate, we can be sure that the final figure will be at least twice as much.

Zimbalist published an article, “An Economic Myth of Olympic Proportions,” just about the time the Olympic Games began. He described the Games as boondoggles in the majority of the cases. He called the International Olympic Committee (IOC) “an unregulated global monopoly” which conducts a biannual auction in which cities compete against one another to prove their suitability. “The outcome of this process is predictable: winning cities usually overbid.” Recent Olympic Games have cost $15-20 billion and the total revenue for the host city was about $3.5-4.5 billion, including TV contracts. Why is the figure so low? Because 75% of the revenue from the TV contracts goes to the IOC and only 25% to the host city.

People who are keen on hosting the Olympics argue that holding the games boosts tourism, but this is not always the case. In fact, tourism in London during July and August 2012 decreased by 5% because ordinary tourists don’t want to encounter huge crowds, transportation delays, inflated prices, and possible security threats. And the argument that the country as a result of a successful Olympics will be more attractive to investors is hollow. Why should it be?

Péter Zentai, a Hungarian journalist, interviewed Zimbalist at the end of August, in the course of which he elaborated on his assessment of the economic aspects of the Games. According to his estimate, the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro has lost about $10 billion. The Hungarian organizers argue that the so-called Agenda 2020 of the IOC puts a lid on the enormous expenses associated with the Games. But, according to Zimbalist, Agenda 2020 “doesn’t contain anything new.” The International Olympic Committee has always talked about “flexibility, sustainability, reuse” but at the end there was “always the same megalomania.” It’s no wonder that smaller cities like Cracow, Oslo, Stockholm, and San Moritz changed their minds. And there is talk about the possibility of Rome withdrawing its bid. The sad fact is that a mere 20% of the money spent benefits the economy and society of the city and the country.

One can only hope that Budapest will not win against Paris or Los Angeles, assuming Rome is no longer in the running. Even if the Hungarian government doesn’t have any sense and refuses to realize that the country doesn’t have the financial strength and the infrastructure in place to host the usual summer extravagance, perhaps those who decide the issue will.

September 5, 2016