The committee tasked with bringing the 2024 Summer Olympics to Hamburg has big plans for venues on the city’s Kleiner Grasbrook island quarter, on the Elbe River. But first citizens must vote on hosting the Games later this month.
Alfons Hörmann was vice president of the organizing committee that brought the Nordic Ski world championships to Oberstdorf in 2005. Since 2013, he has headed the German Olympic Sport Association, which is in charge of applying for the 2024 games. The 55-year-old spoke with Handelsblatt about Hamburg’s Olympics bid.
Handelsblatt: We are still feeling the effect of the Paris attacks last weekend. The terrorists wanted, among other things, to hit a soccer match between France and Germany. Does security for sporting events now need to be reconsidered?
Mr. Hörmann: It was an attack against free society. Security was, is and remains one of the most important issues at sporting events, which must be implemented in close coordination with the responsible authorities.
“Sports are indispensable for the integration of people.”
What do the latest attacks mean for Hamburg’s application for the Olympic Games?
Sports can create hope, especially now when horror and doubt are dominant. Sports can bridge cultural and geographic divisions. Precisely in times like these, the value of the Olympic idea — which for centuries has brought people from around the world together in peaceful and fair competitions — is recognizable again.
Even before the attacks, Olympic excitement had not yet broken out in Hamburg. The city’s FC St. Pauli soccer club even spoke out against the games at its annual general meeting.
There we have different perceptions. All relevant recent polls show about two-thirds of Hamburg residents supporting the Olympics bid. But it will be decided in a referendum on November 29.
The German Football Association, the DFB, is now mired in a tax investigation involving a possible slush fund to bring the 2006World Cup to Germany. Does this affair have any influence?
It has nothing to do with our application. The legal transparency regulations in Hamburg are the best in all of Germany. All considerable contracts in connection with the Olympics must be filed online. Besides, the application committee had given an ethics code, developed jointly with Transparency International Germany. We want the Olympics – but naturally only through legal means.
Was it right for the DFB’s president, Wolfgang Niersbach, to resign? Will that help clear the air?
Seen humanely, it hurts (to see Mr. Niersbach leave) after 28 years of successful work for the DFB. He took political responsibility for the uncleared payments. The most important thing is to clear up the entire affair.
The DFB affair puts the spotlight on a lack of transparency in awarding big sports events. What criteria does the International Olympic Committee apply to award the games?
The criteria are stated in the charter and the Olympic agenda. Naturally, the plans for sports facilities and infrastructure are important. Also, IOC members look intensely at applicants’ athletic and logistics concepts. And then there is the subjective criteria. One member might favor Hamburg as a site, while another other might prefer another country or city.
How are you reacting?
We are taking a clear path. The IOC’s 2020 reform agenda for sustainable and affordable games is our compass. Either we have success with that at the final vote in Lima in 2017 or not. We are only fighting with verbal means.
At €11.2 billion, or about $12 billion, the planned costs Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz has presented are clearly more than some had expected. When do the Olympics become too expensive?
The actual Olympic costs of about €3.4 billion would be fully financed by IOC subsidies, among other sources. What’s important are the costs in the city and region. For instance, first an Olympic park and then new living quarters would need to be built on Kleiner Grasbrook, the harbor island where today cars are loaded. It would be one of the most beautiful living spaces the city could offer, and the first fully inclusive urban area in Germany. How do you determine an appropriate price for such a development?
Hamburg only wants to pay €1.2 billion of the €7.4 billion and to have the federal government pay the rest.
Can you remember being especially happy to pay a bill? This one, however, would bring an enormous national value.
If the amount were only €1 billion or €2 billion, you presumably would have less difficulty with the federal government.
Even with lower sums, there would be a similar debate, and that’s completely okay. Ultimately, it’s about a proper financing plan. The talks between the federal government and Hamburg have been very constructive.
Now there are new financial burdens because of the refugee influx.
Germany is an economically powerful country with a solid financial foundation. Sports are indispensable for the integration of people.
Mayor Scholz said Hamburg can’t raise more than €1.2 billion for the Olympics. Is that his last word?
I’m confident that Hamburg and the federal government will agree to an acceptable financing plan for both sides. I don’t want to speculate on who will possibly make concessions and where. About 695 single projects must be reviewed. Are all of them actually necessary? No Olympic concept has ever been implemented in the same way it was presented at the start.
Most of the time, Olympic Games go over budget.
As a businessman and someone who has already planned a few world championships, I put great trust in the figures. The planning team has clearly and recognizably calculated not only inflation, but also project risks. Even opponents say that everything has been carefully calculated.
Hamburg’s concept is so far the most expensive of all the applicants.
I doubt that if (other cities) have planned and calculated according to the same criteria. For us, it’s important to have full transparency from the beginning.
Is Hamburg a more fascinating location than cities such as Los Angeles, Paris or Rome?
Hamburg has a decisive advantage: It can surprise the world.
Would you apply again in 2028, with Hamburg as a site, even if another European city won the 2024 bid? Two successive Olympics in Europe would be very improbable.
Then it’s up to us to be the exception to the rule. The entire German sports community stands behind our application – we can’t do more.