Budapest mulls dropping 2024 Olympics bid - mayor

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A poster advertising Budapest's bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games is seen in January 2017

First Hamburg, then Rome and now Budapest? The Hungarian capital on Friday considered dropping its bid to host the Olympic Games in 2024, after a petition gained enough signatures to force a referendum.

"If it turns out that enough Budapest residents have signed in favour of a referendum, then I will strongly consider whether the bid should be withdrawn," mayor Istvan Tarlos said.

His comments came as Momentum Movement (MoMo) confirmed that it has obtained 266,151 signatures, well in excess of the 138,000 necessary to trigger a referendum.

The ballot would ask people in Budapest if they agreed that City Hall should withdraw its application to host the Games.

The activists, aged mainly in their twenties and thirties, unloaded dozens of boxes containing the signatures at City Hall on Friday.

"It is a message to (Prime Minister Viktor) Orban, (his ruling) Fidesz party and Tarlos that it was a mistake not to ask the people about the Olympics," MoMo leader Andras Fekete-Gyor said on Friday.

The mayor said a bill for the bid's withdrawal could be submitted to City Hall as early as Wednesday, once he had discussed the issue with Orban, a strong backer of the Games initiative, and with the head of the Hungarian Olympic Committee.

Spokespersons for the Budapest 2024 bid team declined to comment to AFP on MoMo's announcement.

The move comes just seven months before the International Olympic Committee is set to decide between the candidate cities on September 13 in the Peruvian capital Lima.

- 'Traitor' -

Budapest is vying with Paris and Los Angeles for the summer Games, after Hamburg -- following a referendum -- and Rome dropped out, both citing financial concerns.

Sports-mad strongman Orban has championed the bid, launched in 2015, as a reward for his country's rich Olympic record: only nine countries have won more medals in the history of the Games.

The initiative was supported by the Budapest mayor and approved by City Hall, as well as the Hungarian parliament and the Orban-led government.

However, a series of recent polls have shown clear majorities in favour of withdrawing the bid.

It has particularly galvanised younger people and opposition parties critical of Orban.

MoMo, which launched the so-called "Nolimpia" drive in January, claimed budget overshoots and corruption could "at least double" the official cost projection of almost 800 billion forints (2.6 billion euros, $2.8 billion).

Instead, the sums would be better spent on improving the health and education sectors, the group said.

But bid supporters insisted that Budapest, which unlike Paris or Los Angeles has never hosted the Games, is more suited than its rivals to the IOC's low-cost Agenda 2020 strategy.

MoMo's referendum drive has sparked anger among government supporters.

Anyone who signed the forms was a "traitor", said one right-wing media pundit. Several activists were also physically attacked at signature booths during the month.

A civil organisation linked to Fidesz warned last week it could appeal the legality of the referendum drive in the courts.

Officials now have up to 45 days to verify the collected signatures and advise Tarlos to call a ballot.

If no legal challenges were mounted, the earliest likely date for a referendum would be in May.