LONDON >> Once again, German voters delivered a harsh and sobering message to the Olympic movement: No thanks.
The rejection of Hamburg's bid for the 2024 Olympics in a referendum sent out another clear signal that the IOC still has a lot of work to do to convince cities that hosting the games is a boon not a burden.
"That's why referendums are held — to find out what the population wants, and obviously Hamburgers don't want the Olympics," Christiane Wirtz, a spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Monday.
Hamburg's bid collapsed two years after voters in Munich said "nein" to a proposed candidacy for the 2022 Winter Games. That makes back-to-back refusals from voters in Western Europe's most powerful nation — and the home country of International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.
"Obviously the Olympic spirit and Germany do not fit together at the moment," German Olympic committee president Alfons Hoermann said after Sunday's referendum results were announced, with 51.6 percent against and 48.4 percent in favor.
Hamburg's demise doesn't upend the bidding race, as the northern port city had been viewed as an outsider in the contest. Four cities remain in contention: Rome, Paris, Los Angeles and Budapest, Hungary.
But the German vote represents a stinging blow to the IOC's "Olympic Agenda 2020" program, which was designed to make bidding for and hosting the games more flexible and more affordable.
The reforms were aimed at avoiding a repeat of the bidding for the 2022 Games, which was depleted by the withdrawal of four cities — Stockholm; Oslo; Lviv, Ukraine; and Krakow, Poland — for political or financial reasons. Many politicians and taxpayers were scared off by the billions spent by Russia on the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
Planned 2022 bids by Munich and St. Moritz/Davos in Switzerland were dropped earlier. With only two final contenders, Beijing defeated Almaty, Kazakhstan, in the IOC vote in July.
Hamburg's withdrawal is the second affecting the 2024 race. Boston dropped out in August amid a lack of public and political support, and was replaced by Los Angeles.
The good news for the IOC: None of the four remaining contenders has said it plans to hold a referendum.
IOC and German officials attributed Hamburg's defeat to a variety of external factors, including the influx of migrants and refugees into Germany, the bribery allegations surrounding Germany's hosting of the 2006 World Cup and the corruption and doping scandals facing FIFA and the IAAF.
Germany, meanwhile, remains a contender to host the 2024 European soccer championship, an event that may hold greater appeal among German sports fans. It had seemed a tough prospect for Germany to land both major events in the same summer. With Hamburg out, that's no longer a hurdle.
A look at some of the issues in the Olympic bidding:
Bach said in a statement Monday that he regretted the voters' decision, calling it a "missed opportunity for Hamburg and Germany."
Bach noted that the refugee crisis had caused "widespread feelings of uncertainty in Germany," and said it was a "pity" that the vote was influenced by corruption scandals.
The Olympic leader said that, had Hamburg been awarded the games, it would have received $1.7 billion from the IOC, which would have helped meet the city's operating budget of 3.4 billion euros ($3.6 billion).
Swiss IOC member Denis Oswald said it will take time for cities to fully appreciate the benefits of the new bidding and hosting system.
"The agenda is still new," he told The Associated Press. "We will need one or two experiences with cities having conducted bids based on Agenda 2020, so the other ones can really realize the advantages."
THE FINAL FOUR
Hamburg faced a tough race against the big candidates. Budapest is considered even a longer shot.
The contest is dominated by three former Olympic host cities: Rome (1960), Paris (1900, 1924) and Los Angeles (1932, 1984).
Paris and Los Angeles appear the front-runners. Rome pulled out of bidding for the 2020 Games after the government declined to provide financial support.
The IOC will select the host city in September 2017. Many things can happen between now and then.
THE RACE FOR 2026
After the 2022 debacle, restoring confidence in the Winter Games is more urgent than ever.
The IOC is determined to get a strong field of Western European contenders. Switzerland announced last week that is studying a possible bid and will make a decision in March. There could be another attempt by St. Moritz or by Sion, which failed in a bid for the 2006 Games.
Stockholm and Oslo could also be back. Canada could enter Calgary or Quebec City.
Associated Press writers Geir Moulson and Ciaran Fahey in Berlin contributed.