Jogger in Hamburg

Could, and should, Hamburg host the 2024 Olympics?

[UPDATE 2: On 29th November 2015, there will be a referendum to decide whether Hamburg should continue its bid to host the Olympics. Non-Germans aren’t allowed to vote, as explained in my article.]

[UPDATE: On 21st March, the DOSB confirmed Hamburg as the candidate city for Germany.]

Imagine the scene as a flotilla carries olympians and paralympians from all corners of the world along the Elbe to the opening ceremony of the 2024 Hamburg Olympics. The cheers from the crowds of Hamburg residents and their international guests assembled along the Landungsbrücken, the craning of necks to see the athletes from our home countries and – oh my God! – people off the telly. Binoculars at the ready.

Across the world, Hamburg would be the centre of attention with the international press and heads of state here in the city we call home. You probably wouldn’t bump into Barack Obama at Jungfernstieg, but you might catch a glimpse of the odd familiar face off national TV and your sporting heroes from times past and present.

Hamburg has a mountain as large as Olympus itself to climb if it wants to host the Olympics and Paralympics in 2024, but it’s surely achievable. And the view from the top would be supreme.

Timeline: it could be all over by 21st March 2015

[UPDATE] – At the end of February, Forsa took a survey amongst 1,500 residents in Berlin and Hamburg, respectively. The DOSB had said that they would take into the account the results of this survey on whether residents were in favour or against. Hamburg “won” – residents were 64% in favour; in Berlin 55% were in favour.

One thing we know for sure: Germany will almost certainly apply to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic games. Either Berlin or Hamburg will be the proposed host city, and the DOSB (Deutscher Olympischer Sportbund or German Olympic Sports Confederation) will decide on 21st March 2015 which city it will be. Even if Berlin is chosen over Hamburg, there will surely be implications for our city because Berlin is a mere 90-minute train ride away from Hamburg and it would be feasible for major sports teams to have their bases here.

As outlined on the City of Hamburg website, there are many steps to be taken before the final decision. The German city that applies will hopefully be amongst the final candidates, which will be decided in May 2016. After that, the final decision will be taken in autumn 2017.

Could this catapult Hamburg onto the international stage?

On this blog, I have recently been arguing that Hamburg is not one of those “gone viral” cities (in the sense that we say something has “gone viral” on social media), and that it is unlikely to change.

Although I’m by no means certain that it would, the Olympics is one of the few single events that stands a chance of massively increasing Hamburg’s visibility internationally. With seven years’ anticipation (from the time of the selection) and four years’ intense anticipation (following the Olympics in Tokyo), Hamburg would be constantly in the international media. This would be a huge opportunity to build the international brand that Hamburg is, in my opinion, currently lacking.

It would be interesting to see what effect previous Olympic games have had on the image of other international cities, especially ones that weren’t previously well known internationally.

Do we want this? Hamburgians apparently do

There are definitely some people who are against the Olympic games taking place in Hamburg, not least the (n)Olympia group. Some would argue that quality of life suffers when cities become extremely popular because of the “churn” factor I dealt with previously, and the strain on resources. Others fear that it could lead to an acceleration in the gentrification process that is already a very hot topic in Hamburg. And of course there’s the cost of the whole thing, which can potentially run into billions, see below.

I, if I’m honest, have yet to make up my mind. My instinct says “yes” because the city authorities appear to be well aware of the criticisms of previous Olympics – especially where sustainability is concerned. I think it would be good for Germany to host the Olympics following its success with the World Cup in 2006 , and it would say a lot about Germany as a decentralised nation if it were to let it go to Hamburg.

According to a poll reported in the Abendblatt (Hamburg’s local broadsheet), Hamburgians are in favour of hosting the Olympics here: in September, 53% were in favour and 44% were against. Berlin citizens are against hosting it there: 49% were against, 48% were in favour.

On the other hand, Germans as a whole would apparently rather see the Olympics held in Berlin: again reported in the Abendblatt, 40% think that Berlin would have better chances of winning, whereas only 17% think Hamburg has a better chance.

But, as mentioned above, Berliners don’t want it.

Treading carefully following failed Munich referendum

In 2013,  Munich’s bid for the Winter Olympics 2022 fell at the very first hurdle: with a majority 52%, a the proposal was rejected in a referendum. This will no doubt play on the minds of the DOBC and the officials within both cities. Coupled with the aforementioned ongoing debate around gentrification and costs, dissatisfied citizens could cause problems if they feel they are being ignored. I suspect this could play in Hamburg’s favour, because the city is not quite as rebellious as Berlin.

Indeed, following the DOSC’s decision there will be a referendum in Hamburg to allow citizens to decide whether to proceed with the bid.

Sustainability and IOC reform

A big factor in keeping the people on board – whichever city is put forward – will be addressing concerns about the sustainability of the Olympics. We have all seen the listicles with photos of derelict Olympic sites. The logo and campaign CI for the previous Hamburg bid has been rolled out again for this campaign. Whether intentional or not, resources are being reused from the word go.

Sustainability partly means having a lasting effect, and as discussed above, in Hamburg’s case it could be argued that the additional publicity for the city would make a longer lasting change than it would for Berlin.

Where environmental sustainability is concerned, the city claims – probably much like any other city – that it will use existing facilities where feasible, and, where new ones are built, consider the future use of them. Hamburg, and Germany as a whole, are world leaders in sustainability practices so generally I think you can take them at their word.

In recent years, scepticism surrounding large – massive – sporting events like the Olympics and World Cup has grown. Corruption, or alleged corruption, amongst officials is often in the media. Hamburg has made its bid conditional on IOC reform from the word go.

In early December 2014, the Sport Senator (Michael Neumann) made a point of welcoming the IOC’s 40 reforms.

The practicalities

In the pre-application stage, Hamburg had to answer a whole host of questions about plans for the location of the Olympic village, transport arrangements, the Olympic stadium, and of course events such as sailing that cannot be hosted within Hamburg itself.

You can see a map of the plans in this unwieldy PDF. The main area including the Olympic village and Olympic stadium would be on an island in the Elbe between the northern and southern part of Hamburg. As I detailed in my article about Ana, the southern part of Hamburg is often forgotten. Part of the overall strategy with regards to the Olympics is to bridge that gap further.

In terms of transport, it seems that Hamburg considers itself to be up to the challenge without the necessity for any permanent extension to the transport system. We will see Olympic bike lanes, but other than that extra busses and subways will be put on to make up capacity. The StadtRad, a system that enables people to borrow bikes easily for a short time (think of Boris Bikes in London), will be extended, and Hamburg is a green and walkable city.

How much would it cost?

As far as I can see, nobody knows. In an answer to the (n)Olympia group, Sport Senator Michael Neumann said that overall the London Olympics in 2012 made a profit of £30 million. However, the (n)Olympia organisers say the initial projected budget of £3.07bn rose by a factor of almost four. So in terms of costs, we’re looking at possibly upwards of €10bn; but if the Senator is right, then the costs will be at least to some degree offset by income.

For or against?

I’m still not 100% certain whether I’m for the Olympics in Hamburg. My experience in London (where I ended up in the city during the Olympics almost pretty much by accident) biases me a little towards “yes”. Despite scepticism right from the day the logo was announced, people were generally in favour when it actually took place and look back on it, as I do, with fond memories.

Are you for or against? I’d be interested to hear what you think.

5 thoughts on “Could, and should, Hamburg host the 2024 Olympics?”

  1. I am totally for the Olympics in Hamburg because I am convinced that Hamburg (and not Berlin) will learn from the London experience and only in Hamburg sustainable Olympics will be possible.
    Furthermore, Hamburg already lost once against the city of Leipzig – both cities were candidates (among others) for the Olympics 2012 and the “Feuer und Flamme” logo still is in my mind. The new quarter “HafenCity” is the result of the candidature. If I remember well the majority of the today’s HafenCity was planned to host the Olympic village. In times of the planning – mid/end of the 90ies – this part of the harbour was already said to be reconstructured and therefore the candidature for the Olympics 2012 led to the idea of a quartier at the waterside.
    Furthermore I totally agreee with you that this would be “the” perfect chance for Hamburg to finally get an international image as it has to have.
    I keep my fingers crossed and my little figure is already sitting in the Olympic Stadium of the MiWuLa at the Europa Passage shopping mall.
    Let’s hope and see.

    (and if not … Berlin is not too far away)
    Best regards,

  2. Increasing international awareness for Hamburgs… well, that might happen, but (whether or not) I don’t care. However, I like the idea of hosting the Olympic Games. One prime reason: I’m pretty sure it’ll help to develop a sustainable sports infrastructure throughout the entire city as they would build and/or revamp sports facilities in Billstedt, Altona and Wandsbek etc. as training facilities for the athletes. Given this, people in all boroughs will benefit from the Games.

    1. Thanks for you perspective Thorsten. I think certainly if it is to get past the referendum stage, the intrinsic benefits of the Olympics for Hamburg and its citizens will need to be demonstrated.

  3. Ich war ein Hamburger 2009-2013 before I returned to the UK. In 2012 I left Hamburg for 9 days to attend London 2012, a wonderful event 🙂 Viel Glück HH 2024.

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