By Vanessa Kortekaas, Roger Blitz and Ben Fenton
Olympic organisers scrambled to halt a public backlash over the sight of empty seats at competition venues, recruiting an army of soldiers and students to fill the voids and upgrading spectators with cheaper tickets.
Banks of unused seats at swimming, gymnastics and tennis during the first two days of competition have caused anger because of the difficulty many people had securing tickets in public ballots held by the London organising committee (Locog).
The seats are in areas reserved for members of the “Olympic family”, such as sports federations, national teams and the International Olympic Committee, as well as sponsors and the media.
Lord Coe, chairman of Locog, argued that many venues were full, and said it was not “uncommon” in the first few days of an Olympics to have empty seats as “accredited” ticket-holders worked out their daily schedules.
“It’s certainly not going to be an issue right through the games,” he said.
The issue is galling for Lord Coe because Locog confidently predicted after the 2008 Olympics that Beijing’s similar problems with empty seats would not be repeated.
Ticketing has long been a bugbear for organisers. The ballot of 6.6m tickets to the general public was repeatedly criticised as being unfair and hampered by technical problems. There has been resentment in the host country that 2.2m tickets were reserved for the “Olympic family” and sponsors.
Having called on the military to bail it out of its venue security fiasco, Locog again turned to soldiers to help with its latest problem. Scores of off-duty soldiers took up empty seats in the gymnastics arena on Sunday. Locog said unused seats would also be given to student volunteers working at the games.
Staff at the North Greenwich arena, where 40 per cent of the 15,500 seats are reserved for accredited personnel, said they had permission to sell up to 300 seats per session and also upgrade people in cheaper seats. Locog said some tickets were being sold online to the British public.