Empty venues leave organisers crimson-faced

Empty venues leave organisers crimson-faced

Empty venues leave organisers crimson-faced

Olympic organisers scrambled on Sunday to quell a backlash over depressing TV images of half-empty stands at the London Olympics as a government minister said an urgent inquiry had been launched to identify just who had failed to show up, and why.

Sports fans from all over Britain who had been charmed by the Olympic publicity offensive, but were let down by a complex ballot system for the 8.8 million tickets, have been outraged by footage of empty seats at key venues including Wimbledon - one of the hottest tickets in world tennis.

London organising committee (LOCOG) Chairman Sebastian Coe, who threatened to name and shame sponsors that did not fill their seats, said missing spectators were mostly officials from international sports federations, other Olympic officials, their families and friends. "It doesn't obviously appear to be a sponsorship issue at the moment," Coe said, after Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt said he thought the vacant seats had belonged to sponsors.

Coe, a former Olympic gold medallist on the track, said that only eight percent of allocated tickets went to big corporate sponsors such as Visa and Coca-Cola and that 75 percent of tickets were in the hands of the public.

The cycling road race and rowing events were filled on Saturday, he said, but added that other events such as basketball, gymnastics, swimming and tennis had seats going spare because they had been held open for officials like himself making short visits to venues or wrestling with busy schedules. "There are tens of thousands of people at the moment within the accredited family (of sports officials and guests) who are trying to figure out what their day looks like," Coe said.

He said London organisers were trying to fill spare seats with a four-part strategy that includes inviting local children and teachers to use spare tickets, selling more tickets, handing tickets to the military and upgrading other ticketholders.

He said LOCOG sold 1,000 tickets on Saturday and has put thousands of soldiers into seats at the gymnastics. “I don't think this is going to be an issue, certainly it's not going to be an issue right through the Games," he added.

Organisers said they were already in touch with the International Olympic Committee to discover who failed to show up and why. A Games official said it was still unclear whether the empty seats in several events, including Wimbledon, swimming, gymnastics and basketball, had been allocated to sponsors, international federations and athletes' families.

British Olympic Association Chairman Colin Moynihan told a briefing on Sunday one solution might be a 30-minute rule whereby fans would be allowed to take up vacant seats if spectators were late or did not arrive.

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