Hungary's capital Budapest is considering dropping the bid to host the Olympic Games in 2024 after activists announced they have collected enough signatures to force a referendum on the effort, a senior city official said on Friday.
"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Budapest residents have signed in favour of a referendum, then I will strongly consider whether the bid should be withdrawn," Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos said.
The signature campaign launched by the country's political movement Momentum could deal a potential blow to global organisers' attempts to find a city to host the event following a number of pullouts previously.
The group said that it has collected more than 200,000 signatures on a petition against the bid raising the prospect of a referendum.
Momentum, assisted in the campaign by leftist and opposition parties, advocates spending the huge budget for the Games on sectors including healthcare and education, and postponing any further bids until Hungary is more prosperous.
Budapest is competing against Paris and Los Angeles to host the Games, an event whose costs have risen sharply over the past 20 years.
The city would join Hamburg, Rome and Boston among candidate cities if it did pull out.
Momentum Chairman Andras Fekete-Gyor said that they have collected over 266,000 signatures and that it would be "cowardly" if authorities withdrew the candidacy without allowing the referendum to take place.
Momentum, launched by a group of students born around 1989 when the country's Communist regime collapsed, will finish collecting signatures at the conclusion of a month-long campaign later on Friday and submit them to the Budapest election office.
The International Olympic Committee is due to announce the 2024 host city in September.
The government and the city's authorities have both supported the bid vocally but plebiscites are usually risky for Olympic hopefuls.
Earlier on Thursday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff, Janos Lazar, said that the government was waiting on the outcome of the referendum initiative and would act accordingly.
"The wishes of the people will be respected," he said.