| LONDON, July 29
LONDON, July 29 Olympic organisers scrambled on
Sunday to quell a scandal 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.
Fans from all over Britain who had been charmed by the
Olympic publicity offensive, but were let down by a complex
ballot system, were outraged by footage of empty seats at key
venues including Wimbledon - one of the hottest tickets in world
"It's infuriating to see so many empty seats on TV. Surely
it can't be beyond the organisers to allow real sports fans to
fill them up on a first come first served basis?" said Ed
Shorthose, a London-based father of two who has been trying for
months to get tickets to see the Games.
More vacant seats were reported on Sunday, the second day of
Organisers said they were in touch with the International
Olympic Committee to discover who failed to show up and why.
A Games official told Reuters 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.
"We are trying to find out who these tickets belonged to,"
said the official.
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.
Moynihan said the search was on for who had not taken up
tickets. "Where you have large blocks of seats you can pretty
quickly know," Moynihan said.
Spectators reported more empty seats on Sunday.
"We've got a few empty seats, so please shout twice as loud
for those empty ones," announcer Ian Oswald said at one men's
More empty seats were reported at the women's gymnastics,
particularly close to the mat. Soldiers, apparently who had been
on security duty, occupied some of the empty chairs.
Seats were also vacant at the eventing dressage despite the
appearance of Zara Phillips, Queen Elizabeth's grand-daughter,
who is part of the British team.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the minister responsible for
the Olympics, said he was disappointed by the empty seats and
that the London Organising Committee (LOCOG) were looking into
"LOCOG are doing a full investigation into what happened,"
Hunt told publicly funded broadcaster BBC after a widely praised
surreal and exuberant opening ceremony starring the queen, Paul
McCartney and Rowan Atkinson.
"We think it was accredited seats that belong to
sponsors, but if they are not going to turn up, we want those
tickets to be available for members of the public, because that
creates the best atmosphere. So we are looking at this very
urgently at the moment," Hunt said on Saturday.
Sports Minister Hugh Robertson said he was surprised that
the events were not full.
LOCOG became used to putting up the "sold out" sign within
minutes of each tranche of tickets going on sale to the public.
On Saturday some ticket box offices at venues in the park
still had queues of people seeking to buy tickets for selected
LOCOG declined to provide a figure for the number of people
in the park on Saturday or how many tickets had been sold but
said that 11 million people would attend the Games.
By early June, 7 million of the total 8.8 million Olympic
tickets had been sold, and about half of the 2.45 million
Paralympic tickets, in a process that began last year.
But the combination of a complex and opaque online ticketing
system which appeared unable to cope with the huge demand and
seemed skewed towards those prepared to bid for thousands of
pounds worth of tickets, resulted in a wary public.
About a quarter of the 928,000 tickets made available in May
failed to sell, including for popular sports such as beach
volleyball and boxing.
In early June, LOCOG still had about 550,000 tickets to sell
with just weeks to go.
A large chunk of them were so-called contingency tickets
which had been held back while logistics such as TV camera
positions were resolved.
Jin Horne, a 29-year-old financial analyst in London's
financial district, said on her way into see the gymnastics on
Sunday morning that she could not get tickets for her friend
"I heard my company had loads of tickets but they were only
for very important people," she said.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann and Paul Casciato, writing by
Peter Millership and Ossian Shine)