Special Report: Budapest and the Olympic 2024 Bid Race

December 16, 2016

SPECIAL REPORT: Budapest and the Olympic 2024 Bid Race

– BUDAPEST STARTS TO BUZZ – Can the Hungarian capital create a new, more affordable, low risk, high performing Olympic Games model for mid sized global cities that breaks the nexus between Mega Cities and Olympic Games and Revitalise the Olympic Movement?

The Race for the 2024 Olympic Games is now on!

Introduction & Background

As the sun sets on Rio’s epic Olympic journey, a new dawn is rising for the bid cities in the race for the 2024 Olympic Games. Following Rome’s recent withdrawal, there are now three cities bidding to host the Summer Olympic Games in 2024. Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest will spend the next nine months convincing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to vote for their city.

At first glance, Budapest would seem very much the outsider in this 2024 Olympic bid city race, which is shaping up as an epic David vs Goliath clash, or more accurately, David vs two Goliathos – the Hungarian capital up against the heavyweight Los Angeles and Paris “mega city” bids. LA and Paris have hosted the Games four times between them, whilst Budapest has yet to hold the Olympics.

Budapest hopes however to turn its perceived weakness as a smaller, mid-sized global city into a strength, and even sneak an unlikely victory, like Leicester City earlier this year when it felled the giants of English football to win the Premier League competition.

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New IOC Agenda 2020 Era/New Opportunities

In 2014, the IOC passed Olympic Agenda 2020, a “strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement.” The goal of Agenda 2020 was to ensure the uniqueness of the Olympic Games remained, whilst the position of sport in society was strengthened.

One area addressed in Agenda 2020 was the bidding procedure of future Games, which encouraged potential candidate cities to present a project that would fit the long-term development plans of the city and nation, and deliver a financially more affordable Olympic Games.

Budapest 2024 is a direct response to the IOC’s Agenda 2020, and following its strong presentation at last month’s ANOC meeting in Doha, in the first round of presentations to Olympic leaders, Budapest surprised many Olympic insiders and observers and showed that it does indeed belong in the 2024 bid race

Budapest demonstrated in its ANOC presentation last month that it is aligned with the new directions and priorities of the Bach Agenda 2020 era, and showed that the Budapest 2024 bid and sport more generally is instrumental to the city and nation’s overall future development programme.

The city of Budapest is already deep into an extensive programme of transformational infrastructure projects that have provided Budapest with the venues and facilities to deliver the Olympic Games – only three additional venues need to be constructed – and these projects are aligned also with the Olympic model of sustainability and accessibility.

Budapest presented as a credible option for lasting improvements to the city and nation – and for sport – as a whole. There will be no white elephants in Budapest after 2024, just first class stadiums and sporting facilities for citizens, young people, and international sports federations and major event organisers for decades to come.

The Olympic Games in Budapest in 2024 would transform the historic city, regenerating one of the most under developed neighbourhoods of Budapest with Games time facilities and services that will also provide important benefits for the city after the Games.

These include the innovative post Games conversion of the Olympic Village into much needed new and affordable accommodation for students and young people, along with new jobs and social change, and new facilities, venues and momentum for Olympic sport in Budapest and in the surrounding large region of Central Europe.

Fiscal responsibility is also at the heart of Agenda 2020 and Budapest 2024, and again, Budapest 2024 can tick this box and prove that they belong in this race. One key point of the bid is to optimise and utilise existing high quality venues that have hosted major international events, thereby significantly minimising the costs of the Olympic Games – only 3 additional venues would be needed for the Budapest 2024 Olympic Games.

The buzz that Budapest 2024 created in Doha at ANOC showed that the bid is travelling a lot faster than most people thought possible. Indeed, the smaller, more compact design and layout of venue clusters connected to multiple modes of transport will see the Olympic Games return back to the heart of city, with an average travel time of just 12 minutes between venues.

The Olympic Games in Budapest will also be open to every person in Hungary, making the bid distinctive from others. Plans are in place to ensure that 90% of the population in Hungary will be just 90 minutes away from an Olympic event.

This will be made possible with the move away from the traditional model of a Host City and to instead have five nearby support cities that are easily accessible from the capital.

The Hungarian public are strongly behind the Olympic Games, despite a referendum attempt that was recently dismissed due to a lack of public support. Hungary, although a small nation, has a proud Olympic history and sits eighth in the all-time medal table.

Hungary treats their Olympians as national heroes, with the likes of Áron Szilágyi and Katinka Hosszú returning from Rio 2016 as icons and role models after their gold medal hauls.

Budapest 2024 will therefore not suffer from empty seats, as the whole country will be behind the athletes and behind the Games. This will create an extraordinary Games time atmosphere that will fill the city of Budapest and the nation with Olympic celebrations and activity that will transform the city and the Olympic Games into the world’s biggest outdoor festival of sport.

And whilst Los Angeles has Long Beach and the Hollywood Hills, and Paris the iconic Eiffel Tower, Budapest is full of stunning World Heritage scenery and backdrops. From the Danube River, which will stage activities on boats and the islands, to Buda Castle and Heroes’ Square, Budapest has history and character on every corner.

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Supporting the individuality of the city, is the compact nature of Budapest. Two zones with seven clusters have been planned for the Games. They will all be within a ten km radius of the Olympic Village and a six km radius of the city centre. Athletes and spectators alike will be able to access their events with ease, and the Games will be like a city-wide event, with a festival feel and spirit similar to the landmark Barcelona Olympic Games.

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Budapest also belongs in the bidding campaign because of the events the city will host as 2024 approaches. Already emerging as one of the world’s leading new cities for sport, Budapest will host the FINA World Aquatics Championship in 2017, the European Youth Olympic Festival 2017 and the Table Tennis World Championships in 2019 – just some of the major sports events that will enhance Budapest’s planning and operational experience and expertise in the countdown to the Games in 2024.

While mega cities have long hosted big international events, fewer major cities seem as interested in staging such events due to the high costs and risks associated with the current era of prolonged global economic austerity and geopolitical uncertainty that can make big cities with large populations, infrastructure and energy requirements potentially more vulnerable.

Conclusion

While Olympic Movement depends on a line up of quality cities willing to host its flagship event, Budapest could become a model for the IOC to show the Olympic Games can be staged successfully in mid sized cities around the world. This would provide a much needed new tier of more affordable and lower risk host city locations as alternative Games settings, helping to spread the Olympic Games to more cities and countries and make the Olympic Games more accessible to more countries and audiences, especially young people and help to revitalise sport world-wide.

There is no doubt that LA and Paris can host major events and would stand out as favorites in almost any bidding race. The confidence and optimism displayed by Budapest however in taking on these two mega city giants has added an unexpected X factor to this race for the 2024 Games.

As Budapest continues to make its case for the Games, displaying its capability and desire for the Games, it seems this Olympic contest is no longer just tale of two cities.

The question of whether Budapest has a place in the 2024 Olympic bid race is therefore clear to see. If Agenda 2020 is to become a reform that is realised, Budapest 2024 will be a part of the process until decision day. If the IOC want a unique Games with a lasting legacy for the hist city, Central Europe region, and the Olympic Movement, Budapest 2024 looks set to go the distance.