2015 Hamburg/Kiel Referendum for 2024 Summer Olympics Candidacy

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General Issues
Governance & Political Institutions
Media, Telecommunications & Information
Specific Topics
Scope of Influence
Start Date
End Date
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
Direct decision making
Spectrum of Public Participation
Total Number of Participants
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Open to All
Recruitment Method for Limited Subset of Population
General Types of Methods
Direct democracy
Specific Methods, Tools & Techniques
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Express Opinions/Preferences Only
No Interaction Among Participants
Information & Learning Resources
Written Briefing Materials
Decision Methods
If Voting
Majoritarian Voting
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Traditional Media
New Media
Public Report
Type of Organizer/Manager
Local Government
Deutscher Olympischer Bund
Type of Funder
Local Government
Evidence of Impact
Types of Change
Changes in public policy
Implementers of Change
Elected Public Officials
Appointed Public Servants

In 2015, there were two referendums held in Hamburg and Kiel, Germany, to determine whether the cities would apply for co-hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics. In the end, Kiel voted in favour of co-hosting while Hamburg voted against, so it was decided that Germany would not apply.

Problems and Purpose

On 29 November 2015, two referenda were held in the German cities of Hamburg and Kiel to determine whether the cities would apply to co-host the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Background History and Context 

In Germany, this referendum was the second of its kind and was precedented by the failed 2013 Munich referendum which similarly aimed gain the public support of hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics in Munich through a public vote. The Hamburg-Kiel referenda were held simultaneously, but independently of each other. That is, each referendum’s outcome was specific to its city, and had no impact on the outcome of the referendum in the other city. But, Kiel would only apply if Hamburg decided to do so. Both referenda had to satisfy their referendum quorum in order for the cities to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympic candidacy. In Hamburg, the quorum required a simple majority vote in favour of hosting the Olympics, with a minimum of 20% of the eligible voter population (259,833) to have voted in favour of the referendum. Similarly, the Kiel quorum required a simple majority to have voted in favour of hosting the Olympics, although it only required a minimum of 8% to have voted in favour (15,840).(, 2015) The idea of co-hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics was a necessary measure in order to enable either city to host the Olympics, as neither city had the financial resources, facilities or conditions to host the Olympics independently. If the referenda and the application to co-hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics were successful, Hamburg would have been the primary host, whilst Kiel would have been a secondary host by exclusively hosting and facilitating the sailing related events and competitions, just as it did in 1972.

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities 

The thought of hosting future Olympic Games in Germany originated from the Deutscher Olympischer Sportbund (DOSB). The DOSB has made pervious attempts to get german cities to apply to hosting the Olympic Games. This is reflected in the failed 2013 Munich referendum which was held to regarding the 2022 Winter Olympic candidacy. In March 2015, the central committee of the DOSB suggested the application of Hamburg and Kiel to co-host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Shortly after, a congress meeting of the DOSB in Frankfurt am Main decided to support the suggestions of the central committee. However, the idea of co-hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics in Hamburg and Kiel was not merely an initiative of the DOSB, although it developed the idea. It enjoyed considerable levels of support from both local and national government officials as well, like Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz and the major political parties of Hamburg. These included Hamburg’s coalition government at the time, the SPD and Die Grüne, as well as other significant political parties like the CDU and the FDP. Furthermore, the idea matched the interested of other athletic institutions, like the Deutscher Turnerbund (DTB), although there was only a limited number of independent investors. (Hallam, 2015)

Participant Recruitment and Selection

Participation was limited to German citizens above the age of 16, and was restricted to officially registered residents of either Hamburg or Kiel only, who were registered from before 29 August 2015 and who weren’t excluded from suffrage. Each eligible voter received a named letter outlining the procedural details of the vote, all the required documents for casting a postal vote and a 28-paged information booklet. Participants were only allowed to vote in the referendum of their hometown. This made the referenda independent of each other, whilst still being linked in their purpose. Residents were informed and contacted about the vote one month prior to the vote through mail. 

Methods and Tools Used

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What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

The procedural details of the vote were outlined alongside of the ‘Anschriftsverzeichnis der Abstimmungsstellen zum Bürgerschaftsreferendum am 29. November 2015’, which listed all of the 200 different locations residents were able to cast their vote at. These voting-locations were primarily local state-owned institutions, which were located in every major city district. Alternative to casting the vote at a balloting station, eligible participants were able to cast their vote through mail with the attached postal voting documents. Including the option to participate in the referendum through the postal vote increased access to and reduced the cost of participation. This enabled each resident to participate in the vote despite of financial or temporal restrictions. 

In addition, each letter contained a 28-paged ‘Information-Booklet’ outlining the official opinions, Stellungnahmen, of the major political parties of Hamburg (those that had a seat in the city senate at the time), the Hamburg Senate itself and the public initiative ‘STOP Olympia Hamburg’. These Stellungnahmen contained each parties’ preferred vote and an accompanied message on individually designed pages detailing their opinions and arguments regarding the question of hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics. This provided the participants with different political perspectives regarding the costs and benefits of hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics. Thus, the information-booklet intended to nudge the opinions of the voter, or reinforce existing ones. However, it must be noted that the Kiel referendum did not have its own Information-Booklet that was specific to the opinions of political parties in Kiel. Instead, Kiel residents received the same Information-Booklet as Hamburg residents, despite the fact that it only contained the opinions of political parties and political actors and initiatives which were specific to Hamburg. (, 2015)

Although Berlin was discussed amongst the DOSB as a potential host city for the 2024 Summer Olympics, the DOSB decided to concentrate their efforts on the cities of Hamburg and Kiel, as they assumed more support from the public around the Elbe. This was based on an earlier conducted poll that suggested that 65% of the population in Hamburg were in favour of the idea of hosting Olympic Games. (Hallam, 2015)

The idea enjoyed major political support from both local public officials, like Hamburg mayor Olaf Scholz, and almost every political party of Hamburg, with the exception of only one major political party, ‘Die Linke’. Furthermore, the ‘pro-campaign’ enjoyed some support of local investors like Frederik and Gerrit Braun, and had major representation in the media. For example, ’Der Spiegel’ marketed the idea with additional newspaper-sections dedicated to promoting the idea of the Olympia candidacy. (Knaack, 2015) Additionally, other famous German public figures like the national footballer Phillip Lahm expressed their support of hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics through public social-media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. (DW.COM, 2015) Overall, there seemed to be substantial public support for Hamburg and Kiel to bid in the Olympic candidacy for the 2024 Summer Olympics. 

But, in June 2015, following the public announcement of the DOSB to have Hamburg and Kiel participate in the Olympic candidacy, the ‘Hamburger Bürgershaft’ changed the citizen-lawmaking laws in Hamburg, with a two-thirds majority, in order to enable a public referendum regarding the Olympic candidacy (SHZ, 2015). This demonstrates how the voting population of Hamburg was dissatisfied with the idea that such a decision, bidding for the Olympic candidacy, may simply be made without consultation of the public as it entailed several financial and security considerations. This fuelled the ‘contra-campaign’, which feared that there was no conceivable benefit of hosting the Olympics to the average citizen of Hamburg and Kiel. The contra-campaign suggested that hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics would lead to an increase in the cost of living in both cities, whilst it would contribute to amplifying the social class divide, which was suggested by the public initiative ‘Jugend gegen Olympia’.(Jugend gegen Olympia, 2015) 

The city council of Hamburg calculated that the estimated cost of hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics was around 11.2 Billion Euros, of which the taxpayer was supposed to cover 6.2 Billion Euros, and the city 1.2 Billion Euros. (BBC News, 2015) Similarly, in Kiel the estimated cost of hosting the Olympics was 146 Million Euros of which after the deduction of state, national and organisational subsidies from the DOSB, the city would have had to cover 30-41 Million Euros. (Hallam, 2015) The german Finance Minister Schäuble publicly expressed his full support for the 2024 Olympic candidacy, and indicated large levels of national subsidies. But, the estimated costs fuelled the campaigns against hosting the Olympics, as they portrayed the Olympics as an economic liability to both the city and the taxpayer. Furthermore, the terror-attacks in Paris on the 13. November 2015, shortly before the vote, raised security concerns of hosting the Olympics. Alongside of the increasingly prevalent refugee crisis at the time, the terrorist attacks in Paris further supported the claims of the contra-campaign. (Hallam, 2015)

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Whilst Kiel voted in favour of its referendum, Hamburg voted against it. Thus, it was decided that neither city would apply to hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics. Kiel satisfied its referendum quorum, with a 66% majority of voters voting in favour of hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics, although voter participation was particularly low at only 31.7%.(, 2015) In contrast, 51.6% of Hamburg residents voted against the referendum, with an overall participation level of 50.2% (653,227). It is notable to point out that, in Hamburg, 88.1% (575,610) of voters participated through postal voting.(, 2015) One of the potential reasons for the unsuccessful outcome of the Hamburg referendum were the costs and security concerns associated with hosting the Olympics. In response to the failed referendum, a spokesman for the International Olympics Comittee (IOC) said that, alongside of missing the rare opportunity to host the Olympics, ’the city also [missed] the investment of the IOC of about $1.7bn to the success of the Games’. (BBC News, 2015)

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Procedural Design

Despite being unsuccessful, both referenda had a good procedural design. The eligible voter population was appropriately informed of the referendum one month prior the actual vote through mail. The complementary information-booklet, although biased in its own way, provided the voter with expert perspectives on the pros and cons of hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics from both political and non-political representatives (i.e. political parties and public initiatives), which simplified and aided the decision-making process of the voter. Furthermore, the referenda effectively counter-measured the biggest limitations of referenda, lack of voter-participation due to restriction to access, by enabling and encouraging participation in the referenda through postal vote. This was a successful measure to some extent, which is reflected in the large amount of participation through postal voting in Hamburg.

Differing levels of Participation

One of the reasons why voter-participation was low in Kiel, in contrast to Hamburg, was due to the known conditionality of the referenda. Kiel residents were aware that Kiel would only apply to host the 2024 Summer Olympics if Hamburg decided to do so. Thus, they felt they had a lack of influence in the final decision and questioned the impact of casting their own vote. Here, encouraging voters to participate through postal vote by reducing the financial and temporal cost of participating was ineffective, as the voter perceived his own vote to be ineffective to begin with. This lead to low participation rates in Kiel despite the option of casting a postal vote. The perception of a lack of influence on the outcome of the vote in Kiel was reinforced by the failure of the Hamburg referendum, which lead to an increase in voter frustration in Kiel, who, by a clear majority, were in favour of hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Effectiveness of Campaigns

Considering the outcome of the referendum, the intended nudging of the pro-campaign, like in the information booklet, was largely ineffective. On the other hand, the nudging of the contra-campaign may have been particularly effective, especially considering the limited representation of the contra-campaign amongst political parties and within the information booklet that was attached in the letter informing residents of the referendum. Furthermore, considering the seemingly large public support the DOSB thought to have identified preceding the public campaigns, the contra-campaign was very effective. Still, the untimely terrorist attack in Paris on 13. November 2015 remains a large influence on the outcome of the vote due to raising various security concerns.

Impact of failed Referendum on public perception of hosting Olympic Games

Since the financial and security concerns were primary considerations in the referenda, the failure of the Hamburg/Kiel referendum shed a new light on the feasibility and benefits of hosting Olympic Games. The failed referendum reinforced the idea that hosting Olympic Games in the 21st century is little more than a financial expense for both the city and the taxpayer, and that the benefits from hosting the Olympics are rather limited beyond attracting global attention. The response of the the IOC to the failed referendum may therefore have been an attempt to annul the negative impact of the failed referendum on the public perception of the feasibility of hosting Olympics games, by attempting to address the raised financial concerns with financial support through investment.

See Also


BBC News. (2015). Hamburg says 'No' to 2024 Olympics. [online] Available at: https:// [Accessed 1 Dec. 2018].

DW.COM. (2015). Hamburg votes on 2024 Olympics bid | DW | 29.11.2015. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2018].

Hallam, M. (2015). NOlympia: Why did Hamburg vote no on 2024 Olympics? | DW | 30.11.2015. [online] DW.COM. Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2018]. (2015). Olympia-Referendum. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2018].

Jugend gegen Olympia (2015). Olympia-Gegner nehmen Plakatkampagne in Hamburg auseinander. [online] Available at: a-00000000-0003-0001-0000-000000094809 [Accessed 1 Dec. 2018].

Knaack, Benjamin (2015). Wer fragt, muss mit der Antwort leben. In: Der Spiegel

SHZ. (2015). Beschluss der Hamburgischen Bürgerschaft: Verfassungsänderung für Olympia-Referendum: Was bedeutet das? | [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2018]. (2015). Olympia-Referendum am 29. November 2015 - Statistikamt Nord. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2018].

External Links


Lead Image: Hamburg Referendum on Bid for 2024 Olympics

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