* Sponsors not responsible, says chief organiser Coe
* Organisers unable to deliver park attendance figures
* Swathes of seats empty again on second day of Games
(Adds twitter account, beach volleyball)
By Paul Casciato and Karolos Grohmann
LONDON, July 29 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 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.
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.
Sponsors P&G, Visa, McDonald's, BMW and Coca-Cola have all
issued statements reassuring officials, fans and athletes that
their allocated tickets have been and will be used by winners of
promotional contests, partners, customers and employees.
"All of our guests are incredibly excited to be able to be a
part of London 2012 and we believe that usage levels of our
tickets have been extremely high so far," Coca-Cola said in a
statement on Sunday.
Another storm may be looming over attendance figures for the
Olympic Park, where more than 20,000 journalists are on duty for
the Games but which park visitors have repeatedly described as
Media officials from the London organising committee (LOCOG)
have been unable to answer repeated requests from Reuters since
Saturday morning about the number of ticketholders who have
entered the 2.5 square km park in east London housing the
Olympic stadium, aquatics centre, velodrome and other venues.
Tickets for park entrance cost 10 pounds ($15.71) for adults
and 5 pounds for those under 16 or over 60.
They give the holder the opportunity to stroll around, take
in the street entertainment, watch live sports on the big screen
on the rolling meadows in the centre of the park and, crucially,
to buy on-the-spot recycled tickets for some of the events where
there are empty seats.
The cycling road race and rowing events were filled on
Saturday, Coe said, but added that other events such as
basketball, gymnastics, swimming and tennis had seats going
empty 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 by
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 put
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.
But there was a loud public outcry on Sunday.
"As a Londoner with two kids desperate to take part we feel
excluded and it is especially galling when you see all those
empty seats," said Sara Jourdan, a 42-year-old teacher. "We
would love to be there."
A Twitter account called @Olympicseat was created, and had
4,900 followers at 19:50 GMT on Sunday.
One tweet said: "I feel so empty."
Organisers said they were already 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 those who had not taken
up tickets. "Where you have large blocks of seats you can pretty
quickly know," Moynihan said.
More vacant seats were reported 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
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.
Although fencing and boxing were pretty full, there were
clumps of empty seats at the canoe slalom and at Wimbledon for
tennis a large number of seats stood empty with stickers saying
"athlete" and others that were designated for Olympic sports
At the basketball, journalists unable to find seats in the
press area who had migrated to empty corporate sponsorship seats
were moved on, after the sponsors arrived late due to a traffic
jam in London.
A block reserved for the Olympic family even remained empty
at the popular beach volleyball for most of the time.
Hunt, the minister responsible for the Olympics, said he was
disappointed by the footage of rows of empty seats.
"LOCOG are doing a full investigation into what happened,"
Hunt told the BBC after a widely praised surreal and exuberant
opening ceremony starring the Queen, Paul McCartney and actor
"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," Hunt said on
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 has declined to provide a figure for the number of
people in the park 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.
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 suc