LONDON (Reuters) - A longtime Olympics ticket broker is apologizing for delays in distributing tickets to the London Summer Games that have forced some fans to spend up to six hours in sweltering heat this week waiting for their orders.
The ticket agency CoSport - whose owner was a figure in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics scandal and is a prominent backer of U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney - said in a statement Tuesday that it understood the frustration of customers, many of whom have arrived in London from the United States and Canada.
CoSport also said it was “very sorry” that some customers had not been given the bloc seating arrangements they requested.
The episode has drawn attention to the cozy relationship CoSport and its affiliates enjoy with the Olympics, for which the companies have provided travel packages since 1984.
And in a twist of circumstance, the ticket problems also are a reminder of the agency owner’s role in a scandal surrounding the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City just as the leader of those Games, Romney, is scheduled to visit here for the opening of the London Games.
CoSport - described on its website as having the “exclusive right to market and sell Olympic” hospitality and ticket packages in the United States, Canada and a few European nations - is owned by Sead Dizdarevic, who with his wife, Margaret, is a major supporter of Romney.
Reports filed with the U.S. Federal Election Commission indicate the Dizdarevics and their company have contributed $200,000 to Restore Our Future, a political action committee, or PAC, that supports Romney’s bid to oust President Barack Obama in the election on November 6.
There is no indication Romney had anything to do with CoSport’s work on the London Olympics or any problems the ticket agency has had.
Sead Dizdarevic has a long and controversial history as an Olympics tickets distributor.
A native of Yugoslavia who began arranging Olympic travel packages for the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo, Dizdarevic’s companies have arranged VIP travel and ticket packages for every Olympiad since.
In Salt Lake City, Dizdarevic was embroiled in a scandal that shook the Olympic movement and led to Romney, then a private-equity executive at Bain Capital in Boston, being enlisted to steer the 2002 Games out of trouble.
The scandal focused on allegations that Salt Lake officials bidding to lure the Olympics there had spent millions of dollars on gifts, cash payments and other benefits for IOC members involved in deciding whether to award the Games to Salt Lake City.
It also involved payments that prospective vendors made to Salt Lake Olympics officials. An indictment accused two officials of receiving $130,000 from Jet Set Sports, of which CoSport is a part.
The charges eventually were tossed out by a federal judge, but not before Dizdarevic testified against the suspects after receiving immunity from prosecution.
Despite the cash payments controversy, Romney recruited Jet Set as a sponsor after he took over as chief of the Salt Lake Games, according to Mark Lewis, who worked on the Games as a close aide to Romney.
In the years that followed, Dizdarevic and his companies maintained and expanded their involvement with the Olympics.
Lewis and Fraser Bullock, another of Romney’s top deputies in Salt Lake, became involved with Dizdarevic and Jet Set Sports. Lewis, a fundraiser Romney hired away from the International Olympic Committee to raise funds for the Salt Lake Games, joined Jet Set as its president in 2005. Last December, Romney’s campaign announced that Lewis was one of its state finance co-chairmen in Montana.
Lewis left Jet Set last April to join the National Collegiate Athletic Association. At the time he also resigned from his unpaid position with Romney’s campaign.
Romney’s trip to Europe this week will include stops in London, Israel and Poland, as the former Massachusetts governor seeks to establish himself on an international stage.
Neither Romney’s campaign nor Jet Set Sports would comment on whether the broker had a role in arranging Romney’s trip.
A person who answered the phone at Jet Set Sports’ New Jersey office said Dizdarevic was in London. He did not respond to messages left by e-mail, telephone and personal visit.
At the community college campus near London’s Paddington train station that is the London ticket pickup center for CoSports customers, some fans in line on Tuesday said they had tried to collect their tickets on Monday but found waiting times on an unusually sunny London day running up to six hours.
On Tuesday, customers said, the lines seemed to be moving somewhat faster. The ticket agency handed out bottles of water and erected canopies to shade customers from the sun.
But Dave Sirrell, a customer from Canada waiting for his tickets, said he found the situation “...pathetic. ... They should have had this (office) open last week.”
Editing by David Lindsey and Philip Barbara