Coalition seeks to force Prague referendum over Olympic Games

An alliance of mayors, associations and prominent citizens have launched an attempt to force Prague city hall to hold a referendum on whether the Czech capital should host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. But they face hurdles in trying to push the controversial question to a vote.

The alliance, which counts a grouping of independent mayors, associations such as environmental group Arnika and former Prague mayor, Jan Kasl, among its leading lights, launched its bid to call a referendum on the Olympics on Tuesday. Their basic argument is that such a mammoth event should not be staged without consulting at least some of the citizens who are likely to be paying for it years after the closing ceremony.

Jan Kasl explains: “We want to engage either all Czech Prague citizens to support the Olympic Games or be against, yes or no, because the decision cannot be the decision of some politicians who would want to cut the ribbon, open stadiums, or, let’s say, be applauded.”

Most of the referendum’s backers have reservations about current Prague mayor Pavel Bém’s enthusiasm for hosting the Games, pointing out the pollution and environmental problems, the cash being drained from the regions to the rich capital, and the half billion crown bill that will probably have to be paid by all Czech citizens.

Kasl says he has mixed views, but he doubts whether Prague can benefit as a host in the same way as past Olympic cities such as Barcelona: “My stand is a bit ambiguous. I understand that Olympic Development can be something like a development chance for a certain area. I am not sure if Prague is such a case, if we need such a huge event to develop quite a small, tiny, medieval, historical city. Prague would probably need much more 365 small events every day rather and not the one biggest one in a 100 years.”

The immediate challenge of the referendum’s organisers is now to muster the 60,000 signatures needed to force the city council to hold a vote on the issue. The result would be binding if more than 35 percent of citizens take part and more than 50 percent vote one way or the other.

During the next weeks referendum organisers will post leaflets explaining their stance and calling for signatures through city letterboxes. Their target is for the vote being called within a few months - before fresh millions of crowns are spent on Olympic preparations.