London organizers under pressure to fill empty seats

LONDON Mon Jul 30, 2012 12:18pm EDT

A spectator sits among empty seats as he waits for the start of the final session on the first day of the swimming competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre July 28, 2012. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

A spectator sits among empty seats as he waits for the start of the final session on the first day of the swimming competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre July 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jorge Silva

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LONDON (Reuters) - London Olympic organizers were under intense pressure to fill stadiums and venues on Monday on the third day that empty seats clearly visible on television infuriated British viewers who would much rather have experienced the Games live.

Organizers have scrambled to fill the seats with mainly soldiers and students, but early Monday, gaps could still be seen at weightlifting, volleyball and fencing.

They were mainly in the sections with the so-called "accredited" seats for the media, officials from international sports federations, other Olympic officials and their families and friends.

The situation is particularly galling given that the London organizing committee (LOCOG) had pledged to fill all the stadiums after a similar fiasco at the 2008 Beijing Olympics forced China to bus in spectators.

LOCOG was able to negotiate the return of about 3,000 seats in the accredited sections for Monday. The tickets, which went on sale online overnight, were sold out within hours.

The committee said it hoped to get more every day, but cautioned that it was "not an exact science", and some seats would still be out of bounds for operational reasons.

"Everybody is giving up what they can, and it is session by session," a LOCOG spokeswoman told reporters. "I think we have tried everything we can to make sure those accredited seats are filled where we can. We really are doing the best we can."

About 600 of the tickets that went on sale were for gymnastics, with another large chunk for beach volleyball, more than 100 for swimming, and some for water polo, handball and equestrian.

The British public, which took some 75 percent of the total number of tickets, and the sponsors, with 8 percent, were not the culprits, LOCOG said.

Between 5 and 15 percent of the seats had to be made available to foreign sports teams, their officials and the governing bodies of various sports, Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC from the Olympic park.

"That is part of the deal of having the Olympics," he said.

"They're not taking up enough of their seats so we're going to be using them for volunteers, armed service personnel and selling more.

"But you'll never have complete eradication of empty seats for the reason I gave."

"NO SECOND CHANCE"

At the volleyball on Monday, although much of the venue was packed, the Olympic family area was largely empty. The same was true for the men's weightlifting, where the announcer again called for extra cheers to make up for their absence.

Only about 15 percent of the accredited seats at fencing had been taken.

Canoe slalom and hockey were relatively full as was the spectator stand at badminton.

"There's no second chance here. They got it wrong, now they're going to have try and fix it," said Peter Vlachos, lecturer in marketing, events and tourism at the University of Greenwich's Business School.

LOCOG chairman Seb Coe has said he expects the seats to fill up as officials work out their schedules. Organizers are also looking to upgrade ticketholders, recycle tickets and double the number of accredited students and teachers to about 300.

One mother and daughter trying to get a recycled ticket from a booth on the Olympic Park gave up after getting little information and went to the nearby shopping center instead.

"No one knows what they're doing," said Bethany Macdonald, 12, from Portsmouth, southern England.

On the other end of the spectrum, dozens of angry ticketholders trying to get into the men's 10m air rifle competition at Royal Artillery Barracks had to be turned away because the venue was too full.

A venue manager said the problem was that ticket-holders did not understand that their "general admission" tickets meant that seats would be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

Former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell, who helped bring the Olympics to London in 2005, said Coe should use his status to force the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and sports federations to do something about accredited no-shows.

(Additional reporting by Tim Castle, Patrick Johnston, Sara Ledwith, William James, Mark Meadows and Michael Holden; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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