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Budapest Mayor’s Plan to Veto Hosting of 2023 World Athletics Championships Generates Outcry

Péter Cseresnyés 2021.08.27.

Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony has caused a huge uproar after he announced that he will veto the 2023 Budapest Athletics World Cup because of the dispute over the Chinese Fudan University campus in the capital. The news has not only provoked reactions from the Orbán government, the athletics federation, and athletes, but has reportedly even caused serious tensions inside the local joint opposition alliance.

Gergely Karácsony, the Mayor of Budapest, is proposing that the General Assembly of Budapest withdraw its consent for the 2023 World Athletics Championships scheduled to be held in Budapest. He claims that the government has breached its agreement with the capital, as part of which Budapest agreed to host the World Championships.

Karácsony Targets Withdrawal of Budapest's Approval to Host 2023 World Athletics Championships
Karácsony Targets Withdrawal of Budapest's Approval to Host 2023 World Athletics Championships

The Orbán gov't has violated the agreement with Budapest leadership on building the Student City in favor of China's Fudan Uni, Karácsony argues.Continue reading

The announcement of Karácsony, who is also one of the candidates for the pre-election of opposition parties for the prime ministerial post, caused quite an uproar, with the Hungarian Athletics Federation (MASZ), several athletes, and the government reacting to the news.

“The Hungarian Athletics Federation is proud to have won the right to host the 2023 World Athletics Championships in December 2018, which will be the biggest sporting event in Hungary’s history. We are confident that as a signatory to the contract, the MASZ can continue to work toward making the World Championships the most prestigious event in the history of the tournament and an unforgettable event for Hungarian athletics, the fans, and the country,” the MASZ said in an official statement.

In addition to the Athletics Federation, several athletes have expressed their views on the Mayor’s veto. Balázs Baji, world championship bronze medalist in the hurdles, and Anita Márton, world champion shot putter, called it regrettable that the sporting event had become a plaything of politics.

“I was very sorry to hear the news, especially because I feel that the World Athletics Championships have once again been used as a political tool. Sports should not be involved in this. As much as we as athletes were happy to see the event hosted [in Budapest], we are just as happy now, and we hope that there will be a World Championships in Budapest. The whole Hungarian sporting community, the athletics family, is counting on it, and I still have faith in it,” Balázs Baji told news site Index.

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A similar opinion was expressed by Anita Márton to sports daily Nemzeti Sport, who said there’s nothing like it when an athlete can compete in their home environment, especially at a world competition.

“I can honestly say that I am very sad, sport and politics should not be conflated.  Hosting the World Championships is a great opportunity for Hungary, for Hungarian athletics, for people who love sport, and I would be sorry if this would not come to pass,” the world champion weightlifter said.

Govt: Karácsony’s announcement “baseless”

After the mayor’s announcement, the Press Office of the Prime Minister commented on the matter in a very brief response.

“The statement of Gergely Karácsony is baseless, the mayor is clearly trying to divert attention from the traffic jams and chaos in the capital,” the PM’s Office told atv.hu.

Mayor’s veto causes coalition tensions?

However, the veto of the 2023 Budapest athletics world championships has created tensions not only among athletes and the government but also among the local joint opposition parties and opposition district mayors, a senior opposition politician told Telex.

Although the announcement was made by Karácsony, the idea did not come from him, as the veto proposal was submitted by the local Democratic Coalition (DK) group a day earlier. By launching the political action ahead of DK, the mayor is likely to acquire a lot of votes in the pre-election campaign, although his political ally is unlikely to be happy about it. Even if it is not visible on the surface. Ferenc Gyurcsány, for example, reacted to the matter on his Facebook page by saying

“There is no copyright in politics. You should be happy when a proposal finds supporters.”

Meanwhile, opposition mayors of several Budapest districts have told Telex that they are concerned about the fate of developments that could begin as part of the Athletics World Championships deal with the government.

András Pikó, the mayor of the eighth district, is afraid that Karácsony’s announcement could jeopardize the Orbán government’s promised funds for the development of outpatient care in the district if it decides to retaliate.

Krisztina Baranyi, mayor of the ninth district, also told Telex that the district had seen tens of billions of forints of development under the athletics stadium agreement. With the veto, the district would probably lose these developments.

Featured photo: the Budapest Athletics Stadium under construction; by Zoltán Máthé/MTI