BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary had to withdraw its bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games to avoid a humiliating defeat in the race with Paris and Los Angeles after a local political movement "killed the Olympic dream", Prime Minister Viktor Orban told state radio on Friday.
The Momentum movement, a new force in Hungarian politics, last week submitted a petition with 266,000 signatures demanding a referendum in Budapest on an event seen as symbolically important to Orban. [nL8N1G735C][nL8N1G53DA]
Momentum argued that Hungary was not yet rich enough to host the Olympics.
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Although it does not yet register in polls, political analysts say Momentum could win seats in a national election due in 2018 at the expense both of Orban's ruling right-wing populist Fidesz party and opposition groups.
No opposition group has had such an impact on a major issue since Orban rose to power in 2010 and began centralizing control in the hands of Fidesz.
Orban told the radio station that a local referendum could have been won in favor of the Olympics but that would not have been enough in the international race to host the Games, where unity is needed.
Therefore, the bid had to be withdrawn in order to avoid inevitable "shame" on Hungary, he argued.
"There is a political organization, which did not even hide that they want to primarily form a party and enter the political arena....and were not even really interested in the Olympics and they went as far as killing the Olympic dream," Orban told state radio in his regular interview.
Momentum spokesman Gergo Papp said the prime minister and his government, by deciding to withdraw the bid, took away Hungarians' chance to vote on the Olympics in a referendum.
"It is Viktor Orban who killed a dream," Papp said. "At last, Hungarian society could have voted on an important issue, on a gigantic investment project."
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by)