LONDON, England (AP) — Local students and troops are getting free tickets to the London Games after blocks of prime seats were left empty at some of the Olympic venues, organising chief Sebastian Coe said today.The issue is sensitive for Olympics organisers and British sports fans after hundreds of thousands of people failed to get tickets in an initial public ballot.
Coe responded to widespread criticism after the first full day of competition by predicting that seats left unused, largely by Olympics and sports officials, will stop being an issue as the games move through the preliminary rounds.
“It is obvious, some of those seats are not being used in the early rounds so that’s where we put the military in there. That’s why we have students and teachers in there,” Coe said at a briefing.
He declined to blame Olympic sponsors, whom he had earlier promised to “name and shame” if they did not use their allocations.
Sponsors including Coca-Cola and Visa defended how they used their quotas, which amount to eight per cent of the 8.8 million available tickets, Coe said.
“There is not a single person who thinks it is shambolic,” Coe insisted, adding that no one would object to free tickets for military personnel who “stepped up to the mark” this month to help solve a security staffing crisis at venues.
Coe’s organising team has long promised to fill venues and avoid having empty seats, as was the case in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
He said he was “jammed in shoulder to shoulder” with Olympic officials at swimming finals on Saturday evening, and pointed to record crowds lining the men’s road race route, and for rowing events at Eton Dorney.
“Those venues are stuffed to the gunnels,” Coe said.
Yet broadcast images of such signature Olympic events as gymnastics and swimming revealed rows of empty seats for qualifying rounds on Saturday. Tennis matches at Wimbledon’s Centre Court were sparsely attended just weeks after the iconic Grand Slam event there was completely sold out.