There are plenty of losers after the demise of Hamburg's bid for the Olympics, including the northern German port city and the IOC. What's even worse, the very idea of the Olympics could be at risk, writes Joscha Weber.
In the days leading up to the referendum, everybody was optimistic; the mayor, the interior minister, the president of the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB), and Hamburg-based athletes - not to mention the bid committee. The active supporters were all convinced that the doubters would be won over to the idea that everybody stood to profit from Hamburg hosting the Olympics. The opinion polls leading up to the vote gave the supporters of the bid a comfortable lead. However, they were all wrong. A majority of those who turned out to cast their ballots voted no. The fact that nobody saw this coming says a lot about the sad saga of Hamburg's bid for the Olympics.
So again the idea of hosting the Olympic Games in Germany has failed to win popular support. The aspirations of this sporting nation have been cut asunder by none other than the country's own citizens - the same way they nixed Munich's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
This is despite the fact that Germans are a sports-loving people - their enthusiasm was evident when the country hosted the 2006 World Cup. The fact that first the people of Munich, then those of Hamburg, rejected the idea of hosting the Olympics, reveals a deep mistrust of mega sporting events such as the Olympics, not just here but elsewhere as well. And that's with good reason.
That's because the Olympic Games in their current form have developed into a bottomless financial pit. Statistics show that on average, hosting the Games winds up costing 130 percent more than planned. Tax breaks for the IOC and its sponsors, huge construction projects, and all sorts of special treatment, such as special Olympic lanes on city streets - the Games are a colossus of highly visible dimensions. So far IOC President Thomas Bach's Agenda 2020 reform plans have done little to change this. Whenever Olympic hopefuls have the courage to put their plans to the people, they are punished. That's why the other candidates for the 2024 Summer Games know better than to do so.
Too big, too expensive, too nebulous
Hamburg's "no" is a slap in the face for the active supporters of the bid, such as Mayor Olaf Scholz and DOSB President Alfons Hörmann, whose helplessness on the evening of the referendum served to underline the embarrassment for Germany's sporting community. It would be easy to write off Hamburg's no vote as being due to an unfortunate confluence of concerns about rising costs due to the refugee crisis or the threat of terror following the Paris attacks. This would be wrong. The people of Germany simply don't want the Olympics in their current form. They are too big, too expensive, and the behind-the-scenes business dealings and dealmakers are too nebulous. The scandals surrounding not just FIFA, the DFB (German FA) and IAAF, but also the IOC, have painted such a dissuasive picture of organized elite sports that hardly anybody can expect the support of the public anymore.
The idea of bringing the world together for a peaceful festival of sports is probably the most noble idea that anybody in sports ever came up with. However, it is precisely this idea that is now at risk. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Games, regarded the Olympic movement as being based on "the joy found in effort, the educational value of a good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles." The business-savvy elite sports of the present seem to have forgotten these principles. If the Olympics can now only be hosted by cities with deep enough pockets and where local residents aren't asked for their opinion, the Games are nothing more than a commercial show.
No trust without reforms
This is why it is high time for reforms that go deeper than Bach's Agenda 2020. The sporting associations need to be reorganized, the Games scaled back, costs reduced, the locals consulted and the drug testing placed into the control of an independent organization. It is time for an Olympic revolution. Only then can trust in the Games be restored.