Sunday, July 29, 2012

Olympic storm as empty seats leave fans fuming

Olympic organisers say they are investigating as to why so many seats were left empty during events at some Games venues on the opening day of the London 2012 Olympic Games. 

A BBC described the number of seats left empty at Saturday’s swimming event at the Aquatic Centre as disgraceful. Meanwhile there was anger expressed by spectators at Wimbledon where large blocks of seats remained empty throughout the day. 


Many tennis fans at Wimbledon were shocked to see blocks of seats vacant at some of the best viewing spots, and implied they must have been accredited seats. “Since they were in prime position, near where the players came out and the royal box, I can only assume that they were corporate seats,” one supporter told the BBC. “They were in a good spot for a fantastic game but they remained empty.” 

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC's Jon Sopel it was likely that the unused seats belonged to sponsors, but said the matter would be looked into “very urgently”. Meanwhile a Locog spokesman said, “Many of our venues were packed to the rafters today. Where there are empty seats, we will look at who should have been sitting in the seats, and why they did not attend.” 

“Early indications are that the empty seats are in accredited seating areas, but this is day one, and our end of day review will provide a fuller picture of attendance levels across all our venues.” There have been hints that those that failed to take their seats should be “named and shamed” while their tickets should be given out to the public. 

"Full investigation"

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said the empty seats were "very disappointing" and suggested they could be offered to members of the public. "I was at the Beijing Games, in 2008, and one of the lessons that we took away from that, is that full stadia create the best atmosphere, it's best for the athletes, it's more fun for the spectators, it's been an absolute priority.” 

"Locog are doing a full investigation into what happened, I think it was accredited seats that belonged to sponsors, but if they're not going to turn up, we want those tickets to be available for members of the public, because that creates the best atmosphere.” Despite all tickets having been ‘sold out’ for most events months ago, there were rows of empty seats visible at the swimming heats, the gymnastics, the volleyball and the dressage in Greenwich park. 

Ticket allocation

While many sponsors and corporations are believed to have bought up large numbers of tickets, a substantial number have been taken up by government departments who have themselves handed them out to various groups or individuals. UK Trade & Investment for example has offered more than 1,400 tickets to guests from around the world. 

According to a document issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS], 8,815 tickets have been allocated for the Olympic Games. The allocation covers DCMS, FCO, UKTI, Visit Britain and those host venue towns and cities, outside of London, that have opted to purchase tickets under their host county or borough agreements with LOCOG. 

The tickets are intended to be used to support a range of Government games time objectives including inviting and accompanying a number of international and domestic political and business leaders, as well as guests and others with a close connection to the Games and its legacy. Around 3,000 tickets were allocated to a ballot for staff who have worked on the Games for a substantial period of time to purchase, at face value. 

A number of tickets have also been made available to Schools who get involved in the new School Games programme which is a key part of 2012’s sporting legacy. While the document states that no DCMS staff will receive free tickets, it does not provide a clear indication of how many free tickets would be handed out, either to officials or foreign dignitaries [Ticket allocation to DCMS by LOCOG - PDF]. 

Public anger

While the empty seats didn’t ruin the atmosphere at events which were supposedly sell outs, it will annoy thousands of fans who tried but failed to get tickets for the Games. It is the latest controversy to cast a shadow over the Games and one that has prompted Lord Sebastian Coe, the chairman of LOCOG, to threaten to “name and shame” companies that failed to use their accredited seats. 

Some members of the public have suggested that those who fail to arrive on time should forfeit their tickets. “Here is the solution. Twenty minutes after the start the officials count the number of empty seats. They then let in the public, issuing them with a free entry card, on a first come first served basis,” wrote one angry corson on the Daily Mail website. 

It was a sentiment echoed by chairman of the British Olympic Association Lord Moynihan who suggested one impose "30 minute rule" on attendees. The London 2012 organisers "owe it to the fans" to fill the empty seats, Lord Moynihan said.

The empty seat fiasco continued into Sunday with many blocks of seats remaining empty at a number of events.

other reports: BBC / BBC - video / Sky News / Metro / Telegraph / Guardian / Guardian / Independent / Daily Mail

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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