Opinion: The fascination of the Olympic rings | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 29.10.2014
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Opinion: The fascination of the Olympic rings

Berlin and Hamburg are both keen to host the Olympics. But does Germany really want the billion dollar spectacle in 2024? It could be done, but if public support is lacking, it isn't worth it, says DW's Volker Wagener.

A gutsy move! Two German cities want to host the 2024 Summer Olympics – and that after the unsuccessful bid from Munich to host the 2018 Winter Olympics. That was an embarrassment for the city, but a great example of democracy that saw the opponents of the Olympics triumphantly make their voices heard.

For a few days of skiing, people didn't want to relocate mountains or pave over ski slopes. A similar sentiment took hold in Stuttgart over an unpopular train station renovation. School kids, pensioners and stay-at-home moms were out on the streets, protesting against the development because many people didn't want a billion dollar construction project just to save 20 minutes on a train trip to Ulm. It was all for nothing. A referendum eventually meant that the project known as "Stuttgart 21" could go ahead.

Expensive, mega projects in Germany are not particularly popular at the moment. The people definitely want to be consulted. And now, Germany's two biggest cities want to play Olympic monopoly: both city governments say they are prepared to invest more than 2 billion euros ($2.55 billion). But everyone knows that in the end, the price tag will be higher. Still, in Berlin more than 50 percent of people surveyed think the city should host the games, and in Hamburg it's even more. Why is that?

Both cities capable of hosting

Berlin, the gleaming metropolis, and Hamburg, Europe's oldest city state, are both more than capable of organizing an Olympics. There is no doubt about that, even if both cities have seen their share of development drama recently. A new airport in Berlin has blown several opening date deadlines and is way over budget, sullying Germany's reputation as an economic beacon of light. Hamburg is also suffering a hangover from the construction and costs disaster known as the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, which is slated to be complete in 2016 – late and over budget.

Both cities are keen to take appropriate action following these mistakes. Extra debts won't arise from hosting the Olympics, according to both city halls. The citizens will be consulted ahead of the events. Corruption - always an issue when public money is being used to fund big events – is apparently going to be monitored from the get-go by Transparency International, the anti-corruption organization. They all sound like good ideas, but they are not the key to success. Without broad acceptance in the city, the region and the country, the 2024 Olympics should be held somewhere else.

The London example

It always comes back to the same central question: do the Olympic Games actually give a city more than what they cost? Both Hamburg and Berlin will have a close look at how London managed it. In 2012 the Brits managed to invest brilliantly for the games. They used the Olympics to develop the less attractive east of the city. They added to infrastructure in a way that locals and tourists would benefit from it for decades to come. Sports arenas that were built new for the summer were designed so that they could be dismantled, or reduced in size. Hamburg and Berlin will have to produce these sorts of suggestions, if they want their ideas to really take hold. It's a question of responsibility.

An Olympics to boost Germany's image

Besides the financial and the construction aspects, the Olympics are also a great marketing opportunity, telling people outside the country 'who we are' as Germans, and what kind of image we want to have. Although it surprised many in Germany, the 2006 World Cup was a real boost for the country. It was the most appreciation Germany had ever gotten from the rest of the world.

Germany has the chance, irrespective of whether it happens in Berlin or in Hamburg, to host a world event which really is approved by the people. In Beijing the Olympics were there to show off the Chinese system of socialism and capitalism; in Sochi, it served as a jewel in the crown of Vladimir Putin's blend of dictatorship and democracy in Russia. Germany can do it differently, for example, by becoming the first country to host an Olympics with a sense of proportion – a contrast to the over-the-top games in Beijing and Sochi.

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