Liam Morgan

And then there were two.

At the beginning of November 2015, it looked as though we were set for a fascinating bid race as five cities were in the running to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games - Hamburg, Rome, Budapest, Paris and Los Angeles.

Barely 14 months later and the list has been whittled down to just the French capital and the city on the west coast of the United States following Budapest’s unfortunate withdrawal earlier this week.

The Hungarian Government announced on Wednesday (February 22) that it was pulling the plug on their capital city’s bid after Momentum Mozgalom collected enough signatures to hold a referendum on their candidature as part of the “NOlimpia” campaign. Comfortably enough, in the end, as they nearly doubled their 138,000 target, with 266,151 people signing the petition which ultimately led to their downfall.

Budapest deciding not to press forward has been met with disappointment across the Olympic Movement. From the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to Los Angeles 2024, the sporting world is reeling from yet another damaging blow.

This has not stopped the IOC championing their Agenda 2020 reform process. Despite there being only two candidates left in Summer Olympic bid race for the first time since 1988, the IOC still insist their strategic roadmap for the future of the Movement is alive and kicking.

The blinkers are well and truly on over at IOC headquarters. “It is disappointing that this decision had to be taken – the Candidature Committee had presented an excellent project, which has built on the reforms contained in Olympic Agenda 2020,” the Lausanne-based body said in a statement.

“It also demonstrated that smaller cities and smaller countries can stage the Olympic Games in a feasible and sustainable way.

“For all these reasons, the IOC can appreciate the success of Olympic Agenda 2020 as far as the organisation of sustainable Olympic Games that fit into the long-term development plan of a city, region and country is concerned.”

Budapest's bid was pulled by the Government earlier this week ©Getty Images
Budapest's bid was pulled by the Government earlier this week ©Getty Images

They went on to reiterate a favoured line of President Thomas Bach, claiming its apparent success was “further demonstrated by the statements of Budapest, Los Angeles and Paris, that, without the reforms of Olympic Agenda 2020, there would not have been any candidates”.

A look at history suggests the above is not exactly true. After all, this is the first Summer Olympic bidding process since Agenda 2020 came into force back at an Extraordinary Session in Monte Carlo before Christmas in 2014 and is arguably one of the worst in recent memory, not in the quality of the candidates but the quantity. A gift to the Olympic Movement? Not quite.

The strength of the two remaining cities also further enhances the case for the IOC to award both the 2024 and 2028 editions of the Games in one go in Lima in September. They will not want to waste the calibre provided by Paris and Los Angeles and neither can they afford to with the state of the bidding process sitting at a particularly low ebb.

Budapest’s withdrawal amid rising opposition orchestrated largely by youth, ironically the precise group which Bach and the IOC are appealing to with Agenda 2020, is, in many ways, a great shame. 

The Hungarian capital may have been the least fancied in a race which includes the behemoths of Paris and Los Angeles, but there’s little doubt they would have been an excellent host of the Games had they upset the odds in the Peruvian capital.

For a start, the city’s infrastructure exudes beauty. Forget the Eiffel Tower; take a trip to the glorious Citadella or hitch a boat ride along the River Danube past the stunning Parliament building and you will see what I mean.

Of course, this is not quite enough to warrant being awarded an Olympic Games, but it certainly does no harm. It is sometimes lost among the public relations spin and constant wave of tenuous press releases from Bid Committees but there will, more than likely, be at least one IOC member who takes to the polls in Lima (should there be a vote at all) and casts their choice based purely on where they wouldn’t mind spending a couple of summer weeks.

Budapest's bid was withdrawn after enough signatures were collected to hold a referendum on their candidature ©Getty Images
Budapest's bid was withdrawn after enough signatures were collected to hold a referendum on their candidature ©Getty Images

They could do worse than Budapest - although the same applies in different ways to Paris and Los Angeles - and it is also important to mention Hungary’s Olympic pedigree. They are the only country in the all-time top 10 Olympic medals table not to have hosted the Games and maybe, just maybe, their time will come one day.

Budapest 2024 presented itself as the modern candidate and as the “mid-size city” that dared to go up against their gargantuan rivals. They put forward what they believed to be an innovative concept, which may have included athletes travelling down the Danube to their competition venues, and the merits of their efforts are there for all to see.

They were the outsiders, the plucky underdog. And everyone loves one of those.

Aside from the constant mention of Agenda 2020, the bid team, led by the affable Balázs Fürjes, were impressive whenever you got the chance to speak with them in person. They did, however, make their fair share of mistakes.

The one which always springs to mind is last year’s SportAccord Convention in Lausanne. While Paris and Los Angeles spent their time milling around the IOC hotel, attempting to plead their case to any member who would lend them their ear, Budapest 2024 officials were a constant presence at the Convention Centre itself, hoping, praying, that someone with a vote would walk through the door.

The decision to delay the launch of their logo last year, several months after their counterparts had, also backfired. But they carried themselves with dignity right through to the bitter end, culminating in a press release simply entitled “thank you”.

“There is no greater honour in world sport than hosting the Olympic Games, and we are immensely proud to have been part of the 2024 bid family,” said Fürjes.

“We chose to bid because we believed, and continue to believe, in the transformative power of sport and the values of the Olympic Movement.

“We thank the IOC for the excellent cooperation that we have enjoyed throughout the process; their commitment to Agenda 2020 made it possible for us to bid, and their engagement with Budapest was constructive and encouraging throughout.

“We take the opportunity too to wish Los Angeles and Paris well for the remainder of the process; we have been proud to stand alongside them in this competition.”

What we are left with is two titans who may not even have to fight it out at all. Rumours and speculation of an IOC double award in Lima on September 13 are gathering pace, although more than a number of hurdles remain on the path to what would be a momentous decision.

For now, Hungarian IOC members Pál Schmitt and Dániel Gyurta, both of whom will be eligible to vote from the get-go, can be courted even more constantly than before. In fact, the lobbying for the Hungarian vote has already started, with Los Angeles 2024 releasing a statement last night expressing their “disappointment” in the withdrawal of the Budapest bid. Paris have declined to comment until their candidacy is officially declared as over, which could come early next week.

You get the sense the sadness felt by Los Angeles 2024 chairman Casey Wasserman is genuine, but his words can also be interpreted as a method to begin their attempt at securing the votes of the two Hungarians.

“All of us at Los Angeles 2024 are disappointed in this news,” he said.

Only two cities bidding for the Games casts further doubt on the Agenda 2020 reform process, spearheaded by IOC President Thomas Bach ©Getty Images
Only two cities bidding for the Games casts further doubt on the Agenda 2020 reform process, spearheaded by IOC President Thomas Bach ©Getty Images

“We have the highest respect for Budapest 2024's pioneering approach to designing and promoting their bid, and we look forward to continued friendship with our Hungarian colleagues.”

Wasserman then went on to reiterate one of Los Angeles 2024’s main party lines; that the American city can effectively save the future of the Olympic Movement by hosting the Games for a third time.

“The world is entering an era of unprecedented change,” he added. “This is the 'new reality' for the Olympic Movement and it calls for new thinking.

“We believe that now, more than ever, the IOC must focus on selecting a 2024 host city that redefines sustainability, connects the Olympic Movement and its benefits to the world's youth like never before and encourages future cities to bid for their Games.”

In one sense, he is right – the IOC must do everything in their power to inspire and motivate cities to bid for their flagship event. At the moment, the process, coupled with the lack of legacy demonstrated so brutally by the state of the facilities used for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, seems to be doing the opposite.