The Olympic debate

On Mon, Mar 16, the German Olympic Council will announce its nomination for Hamburg or Berlin as host of the 2024 Olympics. While Hamburg's all for the Games, Berlin finds itself divided. Read the experts' opinions, then weigh in yourself!

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Photo by Jason Harrell
Should Berlin host the 2024 Summer Games? On Monday, March 16, the German Olympic Council will announce its nomination for Hamburg or Berlin as host. The nomination becomes official bid on March 21. Olympics or NOlympics? Should we embrace the world of sports and the fun and adrenaline that come with it, or would we rather let another city take on the infrastructural and financial challenges of the event? Some call this a chance to show that Berlin is capable of hosting the best, most sustainable Games in Olympian memory, while others say now is the time to make up for Germany’s troubled Olympic history – the shame of Hitler’s Games in 1936, the deadly hostage crisis of the 1972 Munich Olympics and the lost bid for the 2000 Games, despite spending over 80 million deutschmarks on the campaign.
Hamburg has something crucial that Berlin lacks: popular support.
For now Berlin is vying with Hamburg for the chance to present the German bid. The Hauptstadt’s main claim: it already has most of the necessary sports infrastructure as well as enough hotels to accommodate millions of fans. It has an adequate public transport system and should have a respectable airport by 2024. But Hamburg has something crucial that Berlin lacks: popular support. Whereas a clear majority of Hamburgers have thrown their weight behind their city’s bid, Berliners, sceptical as always, seem highly indecisive and despite the Senat’s best efforts, no opinion survey has been able to show more than lukewarm enthusiasm (with most polls hovering around 50 percent). Meanwhile, the anti-Olympic forces are growing louder, and a group of hardcore activists is even promising to “sabotage” the official campaign. Berlin’s battle for the Olympics – supported by the new governing mayor Michael Müller and most mainstream political parties, with the exception of Die Linke – is foremost a battle to win over Berliners. In the spirit of sportsmanship, we talked to some of the bid’s most outspoken opponents and proponents. Read what they have to say, then decide for yourself… 
AGAINST WHO: Judith Demba, co-founder of the GDR’s Green party in 1989, currently a member of left-wing Die Linke. Demba successfully campaigned against Berlin’s bid for the 2000 Olympics back in 1993; today, she’s a recidivist with NOlympia Berlin – a loose coalition of mostly left-leaning groups and environmental organisations formed in August 2014 to campaign against the 2024 bid. WHY NOT? “What Berlin needs is sound investment in much-needed infrastructure for all Berliners, not just some expensive vanity project. The Senat claims that they will build or upgrade sports infrastructure that all Berliners will be able to use after the Games. But at what cost? For the 2000 Olympics bid, we built the Max-Schmeling-Halle, the Velodrom and the Olympic swimming pool on Landsberger Allee. The taxpayer has been subsidising the operating costs of these three facilities to the tune of €4.2 million per year for the last 20 years. We certainly need more pools and Sporthallen, but affordable ones. In the meantime, many pools have closed their doors. We don’t have enough swimming instructors. Twenty percent of all Berlin third-graders can’t even have swimming lessons at school. That’s a disgrace.
The IOC are a bunch of crooks!
The Senat’s promises are full of hot air. They claim Berliners will have a say, but all they have committed to is a useless, non-binding referendum to be held two days before the deadline for the submission of the Olympic bid. By that time, we will have wasted money on the campaign, whatever the outcome of the vote. A study published in 2012 by Oxford University found that the average cost overrun incurred during all Summer Olympics since 1960 is 252 percent. There’s little reason to assume that Berlin would do a better job with the money. London 2012 went several times over budget. They ended up wasting €1.6 million just for security. It baffles me that we should even contemplate doing just that. On top of it all, the IOC are a bunch of crooks! This whole corrupt system should be dismantled. The last time an Olympic committee delegation visited Berlin, in 1992, the city government forked out DM2.6 million in travel and accommodation expenses. And that was despite the rules on expense capping! There’s always a way around anti-corruption regulations. One IOC member had surgery in Berlin paid for by the taxpayer, another influential member wanted his daughter to be allowed to play the piano with the Philharmonic. You can’t make this up! Look at what Oslo just did. They’ve withdrawn their bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics because they couldn’t cope with the IOC’s extravagant demands – close all schools and museums for the entire duration of the Games, ban all public advertising for non-Olympic sponsors, get the IOC the best hotels, invite them to the royal palace, and so on… I’m not anti-sport. I’m fine with Berlin hosting events like the marathon, championships and football competitions every year. But the Olympics stopped being a sports event a long time ago. It’s one big marketing event, with sports merely being the commodity.” 
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The city’s official campaign, “Wir wollen die Spiele”. Photo by Jason Harrell
FOR WHO: Michael Hapka, 52, general manager of the Friedrichshain entertainment behemoth O2 World since early 2013 and supporter of the “Wir wollen spielen” (“We want to play”) campaign by Berlympics e.V., a club of Berlin businesspeople lobbying for the Olympic bid (not to be confused with the city’s “Wir wollen die Spiele”).
The cost of the Olympics will be covered by outside funding.
WHY: “Hosting the Olympics would provide Berlin with what the city has been missing for a long time: a bold vision, a common goal. As Germany’s capital and largest city, Berlin should be confident enough to make an Olympic bid. Those who claim that Berlin will starve itself of much-needed financial resources in order to pay for the Games are just scaremongering. Roughly speaking, the cost of the Olympics will be covered by outside funding. We don’t want to take money that would otherwise fund schools or roads or the U-Bahn. The Olympic bid will only cost around €50 million. The costs of the Games themselves should amount to some €2.5 billion, much of which will be paid for by the IOC, the sponsors and the federal government. Berlin should end up paying around half a billion euros. But the Olympics is not a bottomless pit for the host city: the London 2012 Games recorded a net profit of around €40 million. And that’s all before taking into account the positive impact for business: more visitors, more sales, more investment. It’s really a no-brainer that we should go for it. Berlin is already one of the most significant sports cities worldwide. Almost any week of the year, we host a European or a world championship of some sort, in addition to the regular local and national tournaments. The density of sport venues and sporting events in Berlin is unique. I mean, seriously, hosting the Olympics is practically our daily business! Getting ready in time for the 2024 Summer Games would be a well-needed extra push to complete long-overdue infrastructure projects: the investments in the U-Bahn and S-Bahn will be prioritised. And since the new airport should open its doors by 2017 (hopefully), Tegel will be closed and will be the grounds for the Olympic village, and will be turned into a desirable residential area after the Games.” 
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AGAINST WHO: David, 34, of ”Olympia Verhindern”, a group of radical leftists from the NOlympia movement whose proclaimed aim is to sabotage the campaign of the Senat and the “economic powers” that want to bring the Olympics to Berlin. WHY NOT? “We hate this government, we hate the International Olympic Committee, and we hate the firms involved in the Olympics. The Olympics don’t have anything to do with sports. It’s only about money. Look at the 2012 London Olympics: The IOC paid 300 people to go around the UK and stop unauthorised use of the Olympic brand. A small restaurant owner in London was threatened with legal action for renaming his place “Café Olympic”. A bakery that sold rolls shaped like the Olympic rings had to remove them from their window or pay £50,000 to become an official partner of the Olympics. It’s absurd.
The Olympics don’t have anything to do with sports.
I have nothing against sports. I personally love swimming, but, typically, I can’t pay the entrance fee for the pool more than once a week – last year they increased it by one euro in all public pools. All that money spent on the Olympics could be better spent elsewhere – on making public pools accessible to all, or helping the homeless. Instead, the Olympic games are just a massive redistribution of money from taxpayers to big companies. The IOC promised all kinds of improvements, including a more affordable bidding process. But there’s no reason to think that anything has changed substantially, it’s only cosmetic. The IOC still makes their host city sign a contract that defines exactly what they want and need. The city takes on all the risk, and the IOC and the big Olympic sponsors take none. Finally, the Olympics will bring more police in the streets and more surveillance. The city will spend a lot of public money on security and kick poor people out of public spaces. The rich will get richer, and the poor will have less access to the things they need. It’s always been like this in Olympic cities. Why should Berlin be any different?” 
FOR WHO: Gert G. Wagner is a member of the board of the German Institute for Economic Research and a professor of economics at TU Berlin. As a teenager, he volunteered at the Olympic Games in Munich.
Isn’t it better to have the Games in a rich, democratic country?
WHY: “As the capital, Berlin has to be the German city to host the games – no question about that. Then the question is not whether we can afford the Olympic Games, but whether we want to be a cosmopolitan, internationally renowned capital and present ourselves like one. If we want that lifestyle in Berlin, we should not count every euro we spend on the Olympics. The Olympics are for the people – It’s an event that will be fun for everyone and make us proud to be citizens of the city. I believe that because I experienced it as a teenager during the 1972 Munich Games. I was very young and it was my first time away from home and I still remember my exhilaration as the doves flew off during the opening ceremony. It was not so much the athletes and the sports that impressed me but the atmosphere. I also remember after the hostage drama, how [IOC president] Avery Brundage said “The Games must go on.” I was in the Olympic Stadium. All this made such an impression on me and moved me so… I would like to see the Games come to the city I live in now. Obviously it will be expensive, and since Berlin attracts so many tourists anyway, the city will not profit from increased tourism. Experience also teaches us that there will be cost overruns and unused buildings in ruins, but Berlin already has much of the infrastructure needed – and won’t have to build so much from scratch. And all in all, isn’t it better to have the Games in a rich, democratic country where people can afford the organisational and financial challenges?” 
Berlin’s Olympic Bid: The Roadmap  FEBRUARY 1 The “Wir wollen die Spiele” campaign kicked off with a five-kilometre run ending at the TV Tower, attended by several hundred athletes promoting the bid for the 2024 Games. As they crossed the finish line, the TV tower was illuminated in red-green-purple Olympic colours. MARCH 21 The German Olympic Council (DOSB) announces whether Hamburg or Berlin will compete to host the Olympic Games in 2024. SEPTEMBER 13 Berliners (with German passports) will be able to give their final yes or no vote in a local referendum (estimated to cost about €3.3 million), the result of which is not legally binding. The Senat has two more days to make a final decision and send its official application to the International Olympic Committee. JULY 2017 The IOC finally decides where to host the 2024 Summer Games. So far, the only two official bids have come from Boston and Rome.  Originally published in issue #136, March 2015