When "Why" Matters

Terrence Burns ©2015 Hamburg 2024.  Where to start?

Let me begin by offering my sincere condolences to the 48.4 percent of Hamburg citizens who wanted to host the 2024 Games and, to my many friends (e.g., Bernhard, Nikolas, Susanne, Claudia, Stefan, Carla, Michael, Alfons, Christian ...) who worked on the bid. They are actually more than friends; they are family – so is Germany to be exact. Germany is a great sporting nation full of welcoming people. I am hopeful that Germany's Olympic time will come again sooner rather than later.

What happened?

I should state up front that I believe the soul of the Olympic brand isn’t really about sport; sport is the path, but eternal human ideals and values are the destination of the Olympic brand.

Brands live in the emotional sphere, not the rational. BMW owners buy “driving excitement”. Mercedes owners buy “prestige” and Volvo owners buy “safety” – what they don’t buy are well-made, expensive, highly engineered automobiles. Consumers buy the brand promise in each of these products.

So, let’s think about that in the context of the Olympic brand; specifically, what are its core values? The IOC states that they are “Excellence”, “Respect” and “Friendship”. Those are indeed uplifting, admirable values. But alone do they truly differentiate the Olympic brand from other sporting events? I'm not so sure because I think sport at every level embodies these three values. And given the current events transpiring in global sport regarding bad governance, corruption, doping and worse, the Olympic brand desperately needs to differentiate itself - Hamburg's citizens just proved that.

Somehow, over the course of time these three core values have become a commodity. A shared positioning with others. A diluted promise. And what happens in this circumstance with any brand? It loses the meaning of its original purpose, its emotional payoff, its power to stand distinct and apart – it loses its power to inspire.

So what does this have to do with Hamburg 2024?

A lot, I think.  Not enough people in Hamburg were sufficiently inspired by the Olympic brand.

To me, the Olympic brand is and has always been about hope. The stated vision of the Olympic Movement is “building a better world through sport".  I’ll buy that. But what is the emotional pay off? What is the IOC’s singularly unique promise that no other brand can deliver?

Again, I think it is hope. Hope inspires human beings to dream with no limitations.

Hope is the emotional output of the Olympic brand. The Games, and more importantly the athletes, give us hope that something better resides deep inside of us, and, if only for 17 days every four years, we are capable of undeniable grace. Nothing other than perhaps theology offers humankind a similar promise through the demonstration of human achievement.

I am under no illusion that the IOC will suddenly revisit its core values in favor of the word "hope". What I am suggesting is that by ignoring the concept of hope, we are missing something  powerful that is needed right now.

My friend Christian Winkler's recent Facebook post help put it in perspective for me: The world is not talking about the value of the Games, only its cost. Cost and value are two distinctly different, yet linked ideas.

The good people of Hamburg can be forgiven for missing that salient but subtle point because the Olympic message has been hijacked. It has been masked by supposedly tangible arguments. It has been too easily compared with lesser things.

I am a big fan of what Olympic Agenda 2020 is trying to achieve regarding the costs of bidding for and hosting the Games. Quite simply, hosting a Games must leave a sustainable and affordable legacy, not only during the 17 days of the Games but for generations that follow. This is the new reality, the new “given”. I applaud the IOC for trying to corral the excesses of the past into a responsible way forward into the future.

What does this have to do with hope or Hamburg?

A city and a community must be inspired to achieve Olympic dreams. Bid Cities and Host Cities come and go – with predictable regularity. What is permanent, what is eternal and what remains are the IOC and the Olympic Movement. They are and must remain the voice and the living expression of the Olympic brand.

If an astute and media savvy anti-Olympic Games minority are allowed to control the bidding dialogue with a discussion based simply on cost, yet without any consideration of value, what is the chance of a fair discussion? How does one quantify the value of a marriage, an education, a friendship or a belief?

The Olympic world must inject and include the concept of  “value” for hosting an Olympic Games alongside the very necessary variable of “cost”. Either without the other is a false computation.

I don’t know the optimal relative weight of each, but I do know it is up to each bid city and its local community – not an exportable set of anti-Olympic arguments by outsiders – to define what does and does not make sense for that particular city’s future.

Hamburg 2024, as with every Olympic bid city before it, began with hope in the belief that the Games would be good for the city and its people’s future. That dream was eventually smothered by an atmosphere of confusion, distrust, alarm and perhaps fatigue.

This is precisely the moment when hope must triumph over doubt. And this is precisely the moment when we can surprise ourselves by adding just a little bit of hope to the equation.