Daring to be small and the killing of Hungary’s Olympic dream

“For a referendum, one needs majority,” said Prime Minister Orbán, but “for winning the Olympic bid, one needs unity.”

And that unity that once existed has been broken. Without it, Budapest would be shamefully defeated in a competition against Paris and Los Angeles to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. “We did not want to expose Hungary to this,” the prime minister said, explaining the government’s request to the Budapest City Council and Hungarian Olympic Committee to withdraw the bid to host the Olympic Games in 2024.

What has been a national dream for decades was thrown under the bus by the ambitions of a cabal of political nihilists.

Budapest’s bid to host the Olympic Games in 2024, which would be a first for Hungary, enjoyed broad political support when the Budapest City Council took the decision to pursue the bid. There was only one vote against it. And with that unified support, the Budapest 2024 bid went forward, advancing to become one of the final three and had a strong chance as we moved into the last months before the International Olympic Committee’s decision. So what went wrong?

The International Olympic Committee rarely comments on anything political, but this time, IOC President Thomas Bach summed up the situation quite succinctly. The withdrawal of Budapest’s Olympic bid was, according to Mr. Bach, brought about by a new political group that “wanted to make a name” and “the referendum is obviously considered by them to be a good tool to put themselves on the map of the political landscape in Hungary.”

It’s more than a little unfortunate that it came so late in the game. The international bid process had reached its concluding phase, and Budapest, along with Los Angeles and Paris, had already submitted the final bid documents to the International Olympic Committee. We were heading into the home stretch and the race was neck and neck.

It’s also a pity to see a group advance its personal ambitions with a destructive effort, advocating what we call in Hungary the politics of daring to be small, instead of coming up with something positive. Their gain comes at the expense of the nation, and we’ve seen that before.

That defeatist, daring-to-be-small approach prevailed in the political class that led Hungary during most of the previous decade and nearly drove the country to bankruptcy before the 2008 financial crisis. It was this class of “no, we can’t” led by a liberal-socialist coalition that the voters threw out of office in 2010 when they handed us a landslide victory and an unprecedented two-thirds majority to rebuild the country.

Alas, the ideology of political nihilism that rejects everything as impossible instead of seeing the possible has not died out. That political gang was looking for a cause and they found one – to take down the chances of Budapest’s first-ever Olympic Games – a cause that once had unified political backing and wide popular support. They split that unity and, with little more than six months remaining before the IOC’s final decision, did enough damage to the international image of the Budapest 2024 bid that it would have been pointless to continue to campaign.

“There are many of us in Hungary who look at the Olympics as an old dream,” said Prime Minister Orbán in his radio interview this morning. “Here, the murder of a dream took place.”

“We have an organization here that doesn’t care about the Olympics but wants to become a political party, so the assassination of a dream is not a high price for them,” he added.

Budapest, as a capitol of a nation that continuously over-performs in the Olympics and ranks among the top ten medal winners in the history of the Games, would have been a great host. It won’t happen this time, but we’ll keep that dream alive.