What Does Hamburg Know About the Olympics That Los Angeles Doesn't?

What Does Hamburg Know About the Olympics That Los Angeles Doesn't?
Shawn Carpenter / via Flickr

First Boston bailed out. Then Toronto said no. Now Hamburg is the latest city to withdraw from contention for the 2024 Summer Olympics.

On one level, this is good for Los Angeles, which became the U.S. bid city when Boston withdrew. Any winnowing of the field improves the odds, and L.A. is now facing just three competitors for the 2024 Games: Rome, Paris and Budapest.

On the other hand, you do have to wonder why all these cities are withdrawing. What do they know that Los Angeles is only beginning to figure out?

In Boston, city leaders dropped the bid rather than face a public referendum, which was likely to go against them. In Toronto, the bid didn't even get that far, as business and political leaders never rallied to the idea. In Hamburg, supporters failed to win a majority in a referendum on Sunday.

This came as a surprise. Up until the last minute, polls showed majority support for the Olympics. But a combination of concerns about costs, corruption and urban planning issues appear to have doomed Hamburg's effort.

The vote is being read as a blow to the Olympic movement, according to Inside the Games. There is also concern, in the Olympic world, that the vote could increase pressure on other candidate cities to hold their own referendums. 

So far there's been no sign of organized opposition to the Olympics in Los Angeles. But there has been some skepticism on the L.A. City Council about the city guaranteeing cost overruns. While the L.A. 2024 committee has released a preliminary budget, much of it remains a big question mark.

In Hamburg, the city was expected to put up $1.3 billion, while the German government would have put up another $6 billion. Opponents made much of that, but they also warned about what the Olympics would mean for the landscape of the city. The NOlympics campaign argued that development plans would be subject to the needs of the Olympics, not of the city, and would be under time pressure that would not allow for democratic participation. The "no" side also argued that the Games could mean increased rents and a militarized security apparatus.

Some of these issues don't translate easily to L.A. The L.A. bid committee has emphasized that L.A., unlike Hamburg, already has most of the infrastructure in place to host the Olympics. But the committee is planning a privately financed mega-development along the L.A. River, which would represent an ambitious reimagination of the cityscape.

Maybe that's worth voting on.

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