Hamburg residents voted Sunday in a crunch referendum on whether the northern German city should push ahead with its bid to host the 2024 Olympics, with staggering cost of the Games weighing on voters` minds.
The port city is in the race against rivals Budapest, Paris, Los Angeles and Rome to stage the Summer Games, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) due to announce their decision on September 13, 2017.
But it must first secure the blessing of its residents and those in neighbouring Kiel, where the sailing events would be held.
Prominent names in Germany`s football world, including Mario Goetze, who scored Germany`s winning goal in the 2014 World Cup final, and Joachim Loew, who coached the team to their Brazil triumph, have come out ahead of the vote to voice their backing.
Former tennis champion Michael Stich, NBA superstar Dirk Nowitzki and former ice-skating world and Olympic champion Katarina Witt have also pledged support.
Urging Hamburg residents to back the bid, Germany`s Olympic sports chief Alfons Hoermann warned that a "no" vote could hurt the future of sports in the country.
Securing the population`s backing would be "a decisive boost for German sports -- in every way", he said, not to mention the additional spur if Hamburg eventually wins the right to host the Games.
Hoermann warned that opposing the bid would end up making it "much more difficult to get necessary support" for less visible sports in football-mad Germany in future.
"A two-tier system would become more noticeable in German sports -- with the very successful football on the one hand and other sport disciplines on the other," he told sports news agency SID, a subsidiary of AFP.The German Olympic Sports Confederation (DSOB) opted for Hamburg over the capital Berlin, and wants to avoid a repeat of the experience in southern Germany, when the public in November 2013 vetoed Munich`s plans for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
A DSOB survey found this month that only 56 percent of Hamburg residents wanted their port city to host the games -- down from 63 percent in September.
In order for the Hamburg bid to continue, a majority yes-vote is required -- as well as the support of at least 260,000 people, or 20 percent of the city-state`s population. Nearly 500,000 have already sent in absentee votes.
Critics are concerned by the staggering costs of hosting the Games -- projected at 11.2 billion euros ($11.9 billion) -- and question the sustainability of the project.
A counter campaign -- NOlympics Hamburg -- has labelled the Summer Games "a money-burning machine", which "speeds up gentrification" and is "not sustainable".
"The Olympia threatens to become a costly nightmare for Hamburg", NOlympia activist Michael Rothschuh told SID. "Hamburg does not need the Olympics."
For Stitch, "if it turns out to be a negative answer, I don`t think Germany will apply in my lifetime again for an Olympic Games".
"It would be a very bad sign, for the whole country," the 47-year-old former Wimbledon champion told SID.
"The sporting structure won`t change if there is a negative outcome, but it will certainly not help to ensure that we get better and win more medals."
A final decision is expected at 2200 local time (2100 GMT) on Sunday night.