GamesBids.com presents the eighth annual Top Ten list of Olympic Bid Stories for 2015. These stories impacted the course of Olympic host city bids, or the Olympic bid process, and formed interesting plot lines and story arcs for the year. We’ll run them down from 10th to 1st as the year ends – click on the links for details.
Top Olympic Bid Stories of 2015: #4 – Referendums Shape Olympic Bid Races
There was only a single, yet significant referendum held to determine the fate of an Olympic bid this year – but it seemed that holding a public vote to determine whether a city should seek to host an Olympic Games became a major part of most bid conversations in 2015.
In November Hamburg voters quashed the city’s bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games by only a narrow margin with 51.6 per cent opposed to the proposal. Hamburg was nominated by the German Olympic Committee (DOSB) in part because it had better public support than opponent Berlin – a city that had also planned a referendum if its bid had moved forward.
News of Hamburg’s defeat rippled out to the other 2024 contenders and at first all four denied that a referendum could occur in their jurisdictions. Paris and Rome officials both said there was no basis or requirement for a vote and in Los Angeles where the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) claims that support is in the 80 per cent range, there doesn’t seem to be a public will to conduct a vote.
In Budapest the city council voted against any such possibiity just to be sure but political opposition didn’t agree and have had a petition approved. If 140,000 signatures are collected, a referendum could be forced as early as the spring.
Even before the 2024 application deadline had passed, bids in the works made major decisions based on the possibility of a referendum. Before collapsing to make way for L.A., Boston’s bid that had already received the USOC nomination was likely to face a November 2016 referendum and it seemed that the bid leaders were spending most of their efforts trying to build public support and much less building a winnable Olympic Games proposal. This two-front campaign strategy is often costly and inneffective.
In Toronto the Mayor took a pass on a bid under consideration because, in part, he was afraid of a possible embarrassing referendum over the plans.
Beijing’s bid for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games was controversially successful this year based mainly on the fact that other better qualified cities had already dropped out including two that cancelled plans after losing referendums in previous months. Davos and St. Moritz in Switzerland lost a 2013 referendum before submitting an application and Krakow in Poland lost a 2014 referendum after campaigning had already begun. Additionally three other cities dropped out of the race last year – Oslo and Stockholm for financial reasons and Lviv, Ukraine in the wake of the Russian incursion in Crimea.
Referendums are not new to olympic bid races – two referendums helped shape the 2010 Olympic Winter Games bid when Berne, Switzerland’s loss and Vancouver’s win led to the Canadian city hosting the Games. But more and more citizens of democratic nations are demanding direct say on whether their cities bid for the Games, a trend that doesn’t seem to be abating.
Referendums are often difficult to win as they can produce less favourable results than the preceding polls. Typically, those against a proposal are more likely to cast a vote than those who are in mildly in favour – or neutral. Bid cities need help when facing such circumstances.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) needs to recognize that referendums may become a new normal process during Olympic bid campaigns, and they must be more hands-on working with bid cities if they hope to continue to attract major viable cities to host the Games.
A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.