London 2012 Olympic Games empty seats fiasco: Locog calls in the Army (again)
Teachers, schoolchildren and off-duty members of the armed forces will be brought in to fill empty seats at Olympic venues in response to widespread public anger at television pictures showing hundreds of the best seats at supposedly sold-out events left unoccupied.
The empty seats have antagonised not just members of the public, but team officials too. Yesterday the head of the British Olympic Association, Lord Moynihan, called for feasibility of a "30-minute rule" – whereby any seat not occupied within half an hour of a session starting would be made available to the public – to be urgently examined. "We need every seat filled," he said. "We owe it to the team, we owe it to British sports fans."
London 2012 has been dogged by ticketing controversy ever since the first tickets went on sale last year, with complaints about a range of issues: the balance between those allocated to the public and those allocated to sponsors and officialdom; the ticket prices; the Visa-only restriction on purchasers; and Locog's reluctance to be open about the whole process.
Yesterday there were empty seats near the finish line of the women's road race as Lizzie Armitstead claimed Britain's first medal of the Games. There were also vacant seats for the morning's swimming, featuring Rebecca Adlington in the heats of the women's 400m freestyle, and gymnastics. Large banks of empty seats in the Aquatics Centre, the Equestrian venue, Volleyball, Beach Volleyball and Gymnastics were visible on Saturday.
Lord Coe said yesterday that many of the seats had been given to off duty soldiers brought in as last-minute replacements for G4S guards, but this does nothing to get the seats into the eager hands of the public, hundreds of thousands of whom are still disappointed at not getting the Olympics tickets they wanted, if any at all.
Most of the empty seats shown on television screens are in accredited areas, which are reserved for governing body officials, members of National Olympic Committees, athletes and some journalists. It is very difficult for organisers to give these seats to fans, as they then cannot be reclaimed if officials arrive. Providing seats for accredited individuals, the so-called "Games Family", is an IOC condition of hosting the Games. The tickets account for around 8 per cent of the 8.8 million total, although Locog has refused to reveal which events they are for until after the Games.
Olympic sponsors such as McDonald's, Adidas and Samsung have issued statements saying they were using their tickets, of which the vast majority are not in accredited areas.
Earlier this year Locog claimed it would "name and shame" sponsors who did not use their allocations, but in fact there are strict confidentiality agreements in place governing sponsors' tickets and it is therefore unlikely organisers would be able to do so.
Lord Coe told journalists yesterday morning that Olympic venues were "stuffed to the gunnels", a comment that was met with disbelief by Olympic ground pass-holders unable to fill rows of empty seats being broadcast on big screens in the park.
Lord Coe said he was "taking the problem seriously". "I don't want to see swathes of those seats empty and that's why we will make sure, where we possibly can, people are in those seats when they are not used," he added. Yesterday, we got pre-accredited students and teachers from the local boroughs. We were able to put 115, 120 into a venue."
The Shadow Olympics minister Dame Tessa Jowell said: "Anyone who is lucky enough to have tickets to the Games should either use them or give them up." Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said the empty seats were "very disappointing" and suggested that they could be offered to members of the public in a "Wimbledon-style ballot".
The ticket fiasco: what they said about it...
"Empty seats at the Olympics?!! And my parents can't get tickets to watch me swim?! Ridiculous." - Faye Sultan, 17-year-old Kuwaiti swimmer
"Anyone who is lucky enough to have tickets to the Games should either use them or give them up." - Shadow Olympics minister, Dame Tessa Jowell
"We all like to see a full house. The pool is one of the most sought-after venues and tickets are hard to come by." - David Sparkes, chief executive of British Swimming
"It's really disappointing. They should do something like they do at Wimbledon where at a certain time they put them on sale to the general public, just resell them. Or even if they upgraded people downwards, closer to the front, to fill them, that would look better." - Matt Casson, from London, at the swimming heats yesterday
"It's completely wrong to say this is a sponsors issue. Those who have failed to turn up include sports organisations from around the world, the media, and a handful of sponsors." - Mark Adams of the International Olympic Committee