Hamburg has voted narrowly against bidding to host the Olympics in 2024, with just half of the northern port city’s citizens taking part in a binding referendum that has nixed Germany’s chances at winning the Games for a generation.
The people of Hamburg and Kiel were going to jointly bid to host the Games, but in a referendum on Sunday, 51.6 percent of citizens voted no. Only in Kiel, the city on the north German coast, which was to have hosted the sailing and rowing competitions, did 65.6 percent of people vote in favor.
Support had eroded in the past few months amid concerns in Hamburg about funding, about security in light of the Paris attacks, about a growing German soccer scandal, and about the growing influx of refugees.
The result met not surprise but disappointment in the rest of Germany, which will now be unable to enter the bidding. Budapest, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome remain in the running to host the 2024 Games and a decision will be made in September 2017.
Late on Sunday night, early indicators suggested voters would be in favor of a bid to host the Olympics, for which there had been stronger support of nearly two-thirds of the population as late as September. In March, Hamburg beat the German capital Berlin to win the right to bid for hosting what would have been its first Games.
A key figure in leading the bid, Hamburg’s mayor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, said he accepted the decision. “Hamburg will not bid to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games. I would have liked a different decision, but the result is clear and has to be accepted.”
Mr. Scholz added that he was not planning to resign and would not discuss any wider fallout from the result. He had been criticized for pushing ahead with a project that many saw as too expensive. According to estimates, it would have cost €11.2 billion, or $12.7 billion, to host the Games, of which 75 percent would have come from taxpayers.
The decision comes at a sensitive time as Germany faces an influx of refugees fleeing war and poverty. It remains unclear how cities, states and the federal government will fund the housing and integration of the rising numbers of people.
“Obviously, the Olympics and Germany just don’t fit together right now.”
Nicholas Hill, the chief executive of Hamburg’s bid, said Sunday evening: “We expected a different result.” Mr. Hill said that the city had been affected by unrelated events including the attacks in Paris on November 13 and the influx of refugees coming into the country.
Mr. Scholz had estimated the costs of the Games generously, given concerns about security. He had been locked in conflict with Germany’s central government over the costs and how much Hamburg, a city-state, would contribute. He had capped Hamburg’s contribution at €6.2 billion, despite opposition from Berlin.
Others attributed the “no” vote to security fears in the wake of the Paris attacks. As late as September, 64 percent of people polled in Hamburg said they were in favor of the bid.
The International Olympic Committee voiced regret about the Hamburgers’ decision. “This decision ends a big opportunity for Hamburg, Germany, and local sport,” a spokesperson said. He added that it was understandable that people in the city of Hamburg reacted this way to the bid, given the lack of clarity about the financing of the Games and faced with the historic challenge of an unprecedented number of refugees coming to the country.
As people flee war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, Germany is accepting growing numbers of refugees and its chancellor, Angela Merkel, insists that all can be accommodated despite growing calls within Germany and across Europe to cap the number of asylum-seekers or risk being overwhelmed. As cities seek to house refugees in emergency accommodation ranging from schools to disused buildings and tents, sensitivities about the issue are increasing.
Hamburg’s finances are pressed, with debts of €25 billion. The city is already involved in constructing the Elbphilharmonie, a major new concert hall whose development that has seen repeated delays and cost increases.
The bid would have meant changes to the city’s landscape – a key argument being that it would bring new accommodation for people. Housing had been planned for Kleiner Grasbrook, a small island in the city’s river Elbe, and people would also have been housed in the planned Olympic Village, but these developments will not take place.
Mr. Scholz, the mayor, said Hamburg’s prospects were promising even without the Olympics.
Alfons Hörmann, the head of the German Olympic sports committee, the DOSB, called the vote a “low point for sport” in the country. He added that Germany’s chances to host the Olympics were over for this generation as a similar no-bid took place in Munich when a 2013 referendum showed the Bavarian city’s population was against holding the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“Obviously, the Olympics and Germany just don’t fit together right now,” Mr. Hörmann said.
Discussion of this Olympic bid – and security fears, costs and the need for resources for refugees – raged on through the night in Hamburg, on social media, and in graffiti on the city’s walls. Others expressed disillusionment with major sporting events following the bribery scandal surrounding Germany’s hosting of the 2006 World Cup soccer tournament.
Meanwhile outside Germany, some observers looked at whether the referendum would raise pressure on the four remaining cities in the running to hold referendums too.
In Germany, Mr. Hörmann said that, “we weren’t prepared for this scenario,” and refused to speculate when Germany could again host the Olympics. Next, he said, the aim is to develop sporting goals for Germany without the vision of the Games.
Allison Williams is deputy editor in chief of Handelsblatt Global Edition. Christoph Kapalschinski covers consumer goods, textiles and food for Handelsblatt. To contact the authors: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org