THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Football’s dominance in the country causes hostility from other sports

icon olymball3 December ~ On November 29, the citizens of Hamburg rejected the chance of hosting the Olympics (either 2024 or 2028). In spite of a massive public campaign in favour of continuing with the bidding process – including a virtual all-party coalition backing the “pro” vote and all local media emphatically agitating for it as well – that motion was narrowly defeated at last Sunday's referendum. So, there will be no German candidate for the forthcoming vote in 2017, leaving Los Angeles, Paris, Rome and Budapest fighting it out among themselves.

To say that Hamburg politicians, local dignitaries and sports persons are livid about that outcome (which, to be fair, nobody had expected, not even the “no” camp itself) is an understatement. A day later, the leading opinion column in the major daily, the Hamburger Abendblatt, accused everyone who had voted “no” of being responsible for having embarrassed the city of Hamburg for decades to come.

Surprising as that outcome initially appeared to be, looking for its reason quickly turned out to be a no-brainer. For hosting the Olympics, Hamburg was estimating an overall deficit of £5.2 billion of which it was willing to pay £850 million. The national government was asked to fork out the rest, baulked at that hefty sum, and, at the time of the referendum, still hadn't given any guarantees whatsoever. Add to this that Hamburg has an atrocious recent history of keeping building costs under control anyway (its currently planned concert hall overran its initial budget by a whopping factor of 11) and you can see what that has done to the minds of voters still undecided at the day of the election. At least, that's what some of them told the television cameras that very evening.

Such sober analysis was not enough for disgruntled Olympic supporters who looked for another source of blame and alighted on football. While not openly hostile to the idea of a German Olympic bid, support from the the football federation, the DFB, and its clubs has indeed been rather lukewarm As far as professional football was concerned, a Hamburg bid might have created another unfortunate obstacle for the firm plan to host Euro 2024, perceived wisdom being that any country bidding for two such events in the same year is likely to get neither. And recent polls gave an inkling that, given a choice, there would be wider public support for the football route, in spite of the current scandal involving the 2006 World Cup vote.

Those strategic considerations notwithstanding, some initial reactions by German competitors in other type of sports brought out a more deep-seated hostility towards the overweening dominance of football in the media. A number of them bitterly lamented the perceived lack of public commitment to any other kind of big sporting events. It is difficult not to feel some sympathy: if Germany gets Euro 2024, the nation then will have hosted no less than four major football tournaments since the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Whether that would have been a good enough reason to sink any more money down the drain for two weeks of often temporary constructions is another matter. By contrast, even German football's initial sole white elephant ground of the 2006 World Cup has eventually found a host, albeit that being the universally unloved Red Bull franchise of Leipzig.

Incidentally, come Rio, some other sports' once-every-four-years cycle to shine properly might be in for a challenge. For the first time since 1988, a German men's football team is taking part as well – and the DFB has already announced that it will take the Olympic tournament very seriously. No Euro 2016 player will go, but that wouldn't preclude international retirees such as Philipp Lahm or Per Mertesacker (both of them already having expressed an interest) to fill the few available over-23 slots. If the German national squad will be as star-studded as this, an altogether new level in the competition between football and the Olympics is beckoning. Peter Schimkat

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