Hamburg pulls a Boston, says no to Olympics

The German city is just the latest to say no.

Hamburg's First Mayor Olaf Scholz reacts after the referendum on Hamburg's Olympic bid for the 2024 Games.
Hamburg's First Mayor Olaf Scholz reacts after the referendum on Hamburg's Olympic bid for the 2024 Games. –EPA

Now Boston isn’t even the most recent city to say no to the Olympics. Residents in Hamburg, Germany, voted Sunday to end the city’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Games.

When Boston’s quest to host was stunted earlier this year amid widespread public pushback, it spoke to factors both local and international.

Yes, there were Boston-centric issues with the bid, which stoked fears of high public spending and rubbed some Massachusetts residents the wrong way. But Boston was also an example of a broader anti-Olympics sentiment seen in recent years across much of the western world.

During the bidding process for the 2022 Winter Games, voters in Europe knocked out bids like they were competing in Olympic whack-a-mole. Three cities—Krakow, Poland, Munich, Germany, and St. Mortitz/Davos, Switzerland—rejected bids by referendum. At least two other cities—Stockholm, Sweden, and Oslo, Norway—dropped their bids due to a lack of political or public support.


After watching its list of 2022 candidate cities fall to just two, the International Olympic Committee sought reform last year. With the eye-popping price tag of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics fresh in mind, the IOC passed a series of initiatives last year meant to make bidding for and hosting the games less expensive.

Critics have contended the reforms don’t go far enough—that they still saddle cities with the economic risks of hosting an Olympics and still give the IOC all of the power over the process. No Boston Olympics, the group that led the anti-Olympic effort here, called the reforms “window dressing.’’

And regardless of the efficacy of the reforms, they haven’t fully stopped the tide of abandoned bids in the 2024 cycle.

Public support in Boston was never very strong, making its selection by the United States Olympic Committee surprising. After months of poor polling, the USOC rectified the mistake in July when it pulled the plug on Boston. (A vote had been planned for 2016.) The USOC subsequently switched its bid to Los Angeles, which is still vying to host.

Fear of potential public or political opposition also led Toronto to withhold a 2024 bid, The Canadian Press reported.


Things were different in Hamburg. Earlier this year, residents had suggested they were on-board, with a poll showing 64 percent supported the bid. That was reportedly one reason Hamburg was chosen over a bid from Berlin, which had lower support: German officials had just seen Munich voters shoot down the 2022 bid, and had good reason to default to a city that seemed more likely to say yes.

At the time, a group that opposed the Hamburg bid told that support for the Munich bid had once been over 60 percent, too.

“We are happy to know that the latest approach to be a candidate city in Germany also failed: In Munich the people refused to support the candidacy by a referendum in 2013,’’ Ulf Tregger, a spokesman, said in April. “We are inspired by their campaign of good arguments and facts and their insisting of transparency and people’s rights.’’

By Sunday the public in Hamburg had turned, as voters made the city the latest to reject the Olympic Games.

What a Boston Olympics would have looked like:

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