BOA chief says still need to crack empty seats problem

LONDON Thu Aug 2, 2012 10:05am EDT

Empty seats are seen during the men's Group D football match between Spain and Morocco at the London 2012 Olympic Games at Old Trafford in Manchester August 1, 2012. REUTERS/Andrea Comas

Empty seats are seen during the men's Group D football match between Spain and Morocco at the London 2012 Olympic Games at Old Trafford in Manchester August 1, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Andrea Comas

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LONDON (Reuters) - The boss of the British Olympic Association (BOA) said on Thursday he remained concerned about the empty seats at the London Olympics, saying it was "unfair" on Britain's competing athletes.

The issue of unfilled stadiums has proved to be a headache for London Olympic organizers (LOCOG) who embarked on a complex ticketing system more than a year ago in an attempt to avoid the gaps in the stands seen at the Beijing Games four years ago.

Yet despite an apparent insatiable appetite among the British public and tickets selling out within minutes of going online, empty seats can still be seen at events, including some finals.

About 3.8 million spectators have turned out, but the attendee rate was as low as 85 percent on Tuesday, with even bigger swathes of empty seats in accredited areas where Olympic officials, sports federations, national Olympic committees, athletes and the media have seats.

"I don't feel any more relaxed today than I did two days ago," BOA Chairman Colin Moynihan told reporters.

"There's some initiatives that LOCOG have tried to take, (Culture and Sport Secretary) Jeremy Hunt is still looking into this, but it is a subject which has got to tax the minds of those who are responsible for the ticketing each and every day between now and the end of the Games."

But a spokeswoman for LOCOG hit back saying "Colin should come and talk to us if he has got other ideas".

LOCOG has already asked those with accredited seats to give up any unwanted seats, and sold the 9,000 tickets which were subsequently made available within hours, helping reach an 80 percent attendance rate in this area on Wednesday.

Other measures adopted have included doubling the number of teachers and students allowed to take up empty accredited seats, and encouraging off-duty volunteers and the military, on security duties, to sit in the area.

Culture and Sport Secretary Hunt has asked for a 30-minute rule, where anyone not taking up their seat within half an hour of the start of competition will see their seat resold to others.

'HANG IN THERE'

"We actually think that we are moving through this quite successfully, to have 80 percent of the accredited seating filled yesterday, which was a very, very different situation to what it looked like on Monday," the LOCOG spokeswoman said.

LOCOG is still coming under fire from sports fans who find the recycling ticket system confusing and for its continued use of an online system that cannot cope with demand, and its refusal to open box offices at Olympic Park.

LOCOG has put another 275,000 tickets on sale, mainly for soccer, which became available after logistics such as TV camera positions were sorted out.

LOCOG's spokeswoman urged fans to "hang in there, be patient, persevere".

The problem with empty accredited seats is expected to ease when sports move into the finals, but LOCOG has had detailed talks with the IAAF about avoiding a repeat of the situation when track and field events begin on Friday.

About 75 percent of the available 8.8 million tickets went to the British public, with the rest set aside for international sales, IOC officials, sponsors and media.

Moynihan said he wanted as many seats filled to give TeamGB full home advantage.

"This has to be sorted. It is unfair on TeamGB not to have maximum support from as many people sitting in seats as possible," he said.

"Every empty seat disappoints me because we need every seat filled to radiate the support from the British public who are passionately interested in sport and are absolutely 100 percent behind TeamGB."

He has already called on the International Olympic Committee to take control of Olympic ticketing and create a new platform.

"This is an issue that seriously concerns me, not just for this Olympic Games, but for all Olympic Games in the future," he added, calling it a "major take-away" issue for the IOC.

(Reporting by Avril Ormsby; editing by Jason Neely)

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