BUDAPEST, AFP: Budapest's mayor said on Friday he is considering dropping the bid to host the Olympic Games in 2024, as activists announced they have collected enough signatures to force a referendum on the effort.
"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Budapest residents have signed in favour of a referendum, then I will strongly consider whether the bid should be withdrawn," Istvan Tarlos said.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 signatures necessary to trigger a ballot.
The referendum would ask Budapest residents if they agreed that City Hall should withdraw its application to host the Games.
The Hungarian capital is vying with Paris and Los Angeles for the summer Games, after Hamburg -- following a referendum -- and Rome dropped out, both citing financial concerns.
Launched in 2015, the bid initiative was backed by the Budapest mayor and approved by City Hall, as well as the Hungarian parliament and the Orban-led government.
But it has also galvanised opposition parties critical of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Hungary's sports-mad premier and one of the main backers of Budapest 2024.
MoMo, a group of activists mainly in their twenties and thirties who launched the so-called "Nolimpia" drive in January, said the sums involved in hosting the Games would be better spent on improving the health and education sectors.
Supporters of Budapest 2024 insisted it conformed to the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Agenda 2020 strategy that encouraged smaller cities to pitch hosting the Games at lower costs.
A series of recent polls, however, have shown clear majorities in favour of withdrawing the bid.
According to current rules, 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 during May.
The IOC is scheduled to decide between the candidate cities on September 13 in the Peruvian capital Lima.