Despite Venues Being Labeled As Sold Out, Games Left With Rows Of Empty Seats
London Games organizers "sought to quell growing public frustration" on Sunday over empty seats across its venues, according to Grohmann & Collett-White of REUTERS. Britons who tried to buy tickets to the Games but were told they had been sold out are now "angered" at the site of "dispiriting images of rows of vacant rows at football stadiums, Wimbledon, the aquatic centre and beyond." More empty seats were reported on Sunday, including at the equestrian dressage at Greenwich Park, "despite the draw of Queen Elizabeth's granddaughter Zara Phillips making her Olympic debut." Olympic organizers "launched an urgent inquiry into the seating fiasco" to find out who had not taken up their places and why, "given the degree of public outcry" (REUTERS, 7/29) The AFP wrote "the embarrassing sight was blamed on accredited bodies," which include the IOC, sponsors and media. A LOCOG spokesperson said, "We believe the empty seats are in accredited seating areas, and we are in the process of finding out who should have been in the seats and why they weren't there." One angry punter at the Olympic Park told BBC television that he "blamed corporate ticketholders." He said, "It's not fair. There's thousands of people who would have got into that swimming pool to watch the races this morning and couldn't get in" (AFP, 7/29). LOCOG and the IOC said that it is "not just because of the Games' sponsors failing to take up the seats." The BBC's Claire Heald pointed out that 8% of tickets have been made available to sponsors, 75% to the public, 12% to National Olympic Committees and 5% to the Olympic family, which includes the IOC and media. An IOC spokesperson said that the gaps are "due to people from a range of those different groups not filling them up" (BBC, 7/29).
COE DOWNPLAYS CLAIMS: In London, Booth & Gibson noted troops have been drafted in to fill empty seats at North Greenwich Arena. London Games organizers Sunday morning said that more troops will be issued with "last-minute invites to take seats in venues when blocks of seats are found to be empty" (GUARDIAN, 7/29). The AP noted Olympics sponsors Coca-Cola and Visa claimed that they "gave away most of their seating quotas to the public in promotional offers." Coca-Cola said its competition allowed prize winners "to choose the event they really wanted to attend." The soft drink company said in a statement: "We have also invited some long-standing partners, employees, and customers to attend the Games. We believe that usage levels of our tickets have been extremely high so far." Visa said in a statement: "We make great efforts to ensure that our ticket allocations are fully used" (AP, 7/29). In London, Andrew Johnson noted LOCOG Chair Sebastian Coe has insisted Olympic venues were "stuffed to the gunwales," as he tried to calm the row over empty seats. One corporate sponsor pointed out that Olympic family members had been allocated four or five tickets for the same time and had to decide to which event they would go. The sponsor added, "There are people with tickets for five venues at the same time." However, Coe "sought to play down the row at a press conference." Coe said, "Let's put this in perspective. Those venues are stuffed to the gunwales. The public are in there." He added that about 150 students and teachers from the local area were "brought in to fill empty seats" on Sunday, and an extra 1,000 tickets were "sold to try to fill venues" (INDEPENDENT, 7/29). British Olympic Association Chair Colin Moynihan said that seats at Olympic venues "should be resold if they are still empty 30 minutes into events at the London Games." Moynihan added, "There must be a way where seats are empty half an hour in to an event that they can be filled by sports fanatics -- we owe it to the teams, and we owe it to the country. The organizers can pretty quickly know who has acquired those seats and go to those people, especially if they're sponsors, and say are those seats going to be taken?" Coe said that it was too early in the Games to carry out his threat to "name and shame" sponsors. Moynihan's proposal would "cause more difficulties than it would resolve" (BLOOMBERG, 7/29).
UNDER REVIEW: In London, Paul Kelso noted Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that he was leading a review of the reasons, and Moynihan "urged him" and Coe to find a solution. Moynihan: "We welcome the fact that Jeremy Hunt has taken responsibility to put an inquiry together with Seb Coe and LOCOG to get to the bottom of the issue" (TELEGRAPH, 7/29). Also in London, Kelso noted Coe will urge int'l federations to ensure they use areas reserved for them in Olympic venues "to avoid embarrassment of swathes of empty seats." Coe is "intending to have frank discussions with some of the federations whose sports were poorly attended by officials and guests permitted to use the 'Olympic family' seats." Coe also intends to remind them of their "responsibility to use their seats." If they are not used, LOCOG "plans to recycle tickets and ensure that seats are filled by military personnel and local children" (TELEGRAPH, 7/29).
TICKET TOUTS: In London, Sophie Tedmanson noted Scotland Yard launched an "investigation into the black-market sale of Olympic tickets by three official ticket agents" covering the Games. The investigation comes after a Sunday Times exposé in which Olympic officials and agents "were secretly filmed selling thousands of top tickets for up to ten times face value." Detectives from Operation Podium, set up by Scotland Yard to tackle Games-related ticket fraud, launched the inquiry last week "after studying more than 20 hours of recordings provided by the newspaper." Officers will seek to question agents representing the Olympic committees of China, Serbia and Lithuania and "could make several arrests during the Games" (LONDON TIMES, 7/29). Also in London, Sandra Laville wrote ticket touts are "exploiting the row over empty seats" by standing outside the Olympic Park and other venues, despite the threat of arrest by undercover police. Police have already arrested 16 individuals for touting since the London Games kicked off. Two men have also been arrested for the alleged theft of two Olympic ticket lane passes. Undercover police arrested five people on suspicion of ticket touting outside the park just hours before the Opening Ceremony and a further 11 on Saturday. Detective Superintendent and Head of Operation Podium Nick Downing "warned touts to stay away." He said, "We have been, and will continue to seek out and take robust action against anybody who tries to cash in on the 2012 Games in this way" (GUARDIAN, 7/29).
REACTIONS TO THE ROW: In London, Owen Gibson wrote "on just day one they have had to deal with one of the problems that habitually bedevils Olympic organisers;" namely how to deal with the sometimes dysfunctional "Olympic family." LOCOG is "fairly sure that the majority of empty seats" on day one of competition were ones intended for accredited members of the "Olympic family." Often, the seats are in prime positions and easily visible on TV. Then there is a separate category of potential no-shows -- the 1.1 million tickets reserved for sponsors. And then there is a third reason, "less talked about by the press for obvious reasons" and that is seats for the media. The problem is "exacerbated by the fact that the public are so keen to attend." It is "dangerous for the organisers because it reinforces the perception of some" that the Games is too much about corporate sponsorship (GUARDIAN, 7/29).
ATHLETES ALSO UPSET: In N.Y., Bruce Orwall wrote fans are not the "only ones who are frustrated." On Saturday afternoon, Indian tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi tweeted: "Been trying for 6 hours now to buy my wife a ticket to watch me play tomorrow. Still no luck, and the grounds here feel empty. ABSURD!!!" Bhupathi's doubles match was Sunday (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 7/29). In Sydney, Samantha Lane noted Australian swimmers and the Olympic team boss Nick Green have "lamented the vacant seats that dotted the Olympic aquatic centre." Australian swimmer Cate Campbell, who won a Gold Medal in the 4x100m relay, said that her father "had to watch her from the nosebleed rows." Green said, "I was at the swimming...we would have loved to have had more Australians in there, of course, if we were given the allocation, but it's a problem that LOCOG will have to address" (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 7/30).