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Volume 20 No. 42
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Sochi ‘spectator’s pass’ creates questions, concerns

Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

If you plan to go to the Sochi Games next year, you’ll need to bring more than just your Visa.

Organizers of the Sochi Olympics plan to require ticket holders to have a “spectator’s pass” in order to enter the Olympic Park and attend events. Those passes can only be secured in advance by providing the Russian government with background information ranging from passport details to biographical information.

The passes are required to “ensure the secure, hospitable and friendly atmosphere of the Games,” organizers say, but the plan to require each ticket holder to have a pass has created concerns among hospitality companies and national Olympic committees, and it could create issues for the International Olympic Committee.

The passes could force hospitality companies to hire extra staff to help process paperwork from clients attending the Games. National Olympic committees will have to assist the families of athletes in navigating the process and make sure their sponsors secure the necessary credentials. And the IOC could face questions about a vacant Olympic Park, which will be accessible only to people with passes, or vacant seats, which won’t be easy to resell or transfer to people without passes.

To date, Sochi organizers have provided limited information about the passes. They haven’t said what information will be required, when they will need to collect it, how long the process will take, if it will cost anything or when the passes will be granted.

A spokeswoman for the organizing committee wrote in an email that those decisions won’t be made until after the organization has finished testing the spectator-pass system at the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships later this month. She described a test of the pass at the Biathlon World Cup in March as a “success.” Organizers expect 100,000 people to attend test events this year. More than 1 million tickets are typically sold for an Olympics.

The Russian government, which has pushed for the spectator-pass system, last month said it doesn’t want to create problems for fans. It has pushed for the system for security reasons.

Olympic hospitality agencies are awaiting final word from Sochi organizers about how the system works before they begin requesting information from clients. Each of the IOC’s 10 worldwide sponsors brings more than 1,500 guests to a Winter Olympics. That means that just among TOP sponsor guests, Sochi organizers would need to check the information of roughly 15,000 people.

SportsMark CEO Steve Skubic, whose hospitality agency works with Visa, Procter & Gamble and other Olympic sponsors, said the agency is considering hiring more staff to process the paperwork, and its legal team is preparing to evaluate the system to make sure any information it shares from guests won’t be passed on by Sochi organizers to a third party.

“We have compliance issues around protecting data security,” Skubic said. “If we give the information to someone else, we need to be sure that information is going to hold and stay with them.”

Skubic said he thinks the spectator-pass system will be manageable, but SportsMark has begun encouraging its clients to make guests aware that they may have to undergo a background check. That shouldn’t be an issue, but the lack of flexibility could become a problem in some cases.

“A lot of our clients run consumer promotions and don’t know who those people will be until affidavits get signed, or if you have VIPs with last-minute changes, you want those seats filled,” Skubic said. “You run the risk [with spectator passes] of not being able to do a last-minute change.”

Jet Set Sports, which has the exclusive Sochi ticket sales rights in the U.S. and provides many of the USOC’s sponsors with hospitality packages, declined to comment.

The IOC has encouraged Sochi organizers to make the system as simple as possible.

The spectator-pass system builds on the system that Beijing organizers developed for the 2008 Summer Olympics. To attend the opening and closing ceremony, ticket holders had to provide passport information and a photograph. The requirement, which was adopted for security reasons, created considerable paperwork demand for sponsors and agencies. But the organizers didn’t require similar credentials for every ticketed event, which meant they had to check the information and issue credentials for a maximum of 180,000 spectators.

During the 2006 World Cup in Germany, organizers adopted a different but similar system designed to prevent secondary-market ticket sales. Each ticket buyer had his name printed on his ticket, and German organizers occasionally checked the name against the ticket before letting people into matches.

Host cities for the Winter Games typically sell more than 1 million tickets. In Sochi, about 70 percent of tickets are expected to go to Russians and 30 percent to buyers from around the world. International guests already have to provide extensive background information to secure a visa before entering the country.

The Russian government plans to evaluate the system after the ice hockey competition this month and make a final decision on what information it will require and how the system will work.

“If they’re feeling this needs to be in place to make a safe and worry-free experience happen for guests, then we’ll make that work,” Skubic said.