POSTED: December 1st 2015

NEIL WILSON: Hamburg speaks for the world - the Olympic rings need a polish

Hamburg citizens said no to the Olympic campaign / Bigstock
Hamburg citizens said no to the Olympic campaign / Bigstock

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) The last time Germany hosted an Olympic Games, IOC president Thomas Bach was a teenager studying law and politics at university there.

The next time may not be in his life-time. Certainly it will not be during the 12 years he is allowed to serve as president of the Olympic movement.

Germany, where Bach served as NOC president before his IOC election, turned its back on the Olympic Games for the second time in two years this week when Hamburg's citizens voted against a bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games.

It looked like a close run event: just 51.6% saying Nein. It was far less close if you exclude the two-thirds in favour in the sailing venue of Kiel. Hamburg itself wanted nothing to do with the five-ringed sporting circus.

The IOC and the bid committee blamed current events: corruption in German football, the cost of the refugee crisis, the killings in Paris. Yet none of those had happened when two years earlier Munich made the same choice in relation to a bid for the 2022 Winter Games.

Nor across neighbouring borders Austrian, Swiss, Polish, Swedish and Norwegian cities took the same view.

And across the Atlantic, the citizens of Boston showed the same indifference. Offered the right to bid by the US Olympic Committee, they said no thanks. "People can see that there are things where the money is better spent," said Florian Kosiske, of NOlympia, a Hamburg opposition group.

So after being left with only two bidders for 2022, both dictatorship where the public have no choice in the matter, the IOC is left with four cities bidding for 2024: the USA's second-choice of Los Angeles, Paris, Budapest and Rome.

None plans to hold a referendum. None probably dare. Major cities, where infrastructure is highly developed already, face a difficult job selling the concept to citizens where legacy value is not obvious.

London sold its bid to host the 2012 Games to the IOC on the legacy it would create for sport as well as the eastern part of its city. Many argue that the former did not materialize and the latter would have happened without the Olympic Games occurring there.

More significantly, London did not ask its citizens for their opinion. No referendum was held. Many there believe that even with Government, city authorities and NOC support, the bid would not have won the popular vote in advance.

So what do the citizens of Rome, Budapest, Los Angeles and Paris think about spending anything up to $100 million on a bidding process that for three of the cities will be money down the drain?

They should be asked. It should be a condition of bidding that a referendum has proven public support.

And long before any city thinks about putting a bid to a local vote, Bach should be out there around the world not glad-handing presidents and Pontiff but selling the Olympic brand to the common man. Because it is tarnished.

Hamburg spoke for the world when it made that clear.

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books. 

Keywords · Olympics · Neil Wilson · bidding

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