London calls on children, soldiers to fill Olympic seats
London • Responding to early criticisms that some athletes have been performing in largely vacant venues, London Olympics Chairman Sebastian Coe said Sunday that organizers have begun authorizing off-duty military personnel and local school children to begin filling thousands of empty seats across the city.
Coe said spotty early attendance has been a persistent issue at most Olympic Games, as holders of prime tickets including corporate sponsors and accredited members of the broader Olympic movement determine where they will be spending their time.
"We take it seriously," Coe said. "I don't want to see those empty seats. But I don't think you will see this as an issue through the Games."
The chairman said that after one full day of competition it was not appropriate to "name and shame" those who weren't turning up. And he said the blame should not fall on wealthy corporate sponsors who he said were not the problem.
London Olympics spokeswoman Jackie Brock-Doyle said an early review of ticketed spectators actually showed that sponsors are "coming out." The issue, International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said, may turn on how other accredited members of the Olympic movement athletes' family members, sports federations and journalists decide to use their access to the venues.
On a tour of the venues Saturday, Coe said there was "barely a seat left in the house" at beach volleyball and swimming competitions. He said early reports Sunday at the gymnastics venue, where there were blocks of empty seats Saturday, indicated improvement.
"Those venues are humming," Coe said.
But there were empty seats at the morning dressage competition at Greenwich Park featuring British rider Zara Philips, granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II. The obedience competition, however, is not considered the most popular, and Philips' start time at 10:15 a.m. was an early one on a London Sunday.
Still, Coe said organizers were looking at other options, if the attendance problems persisted, including resale of some tickets for multisession events such as basketball. In some cases, such as basketball, Coe said spectators may choose to leave the venue after one game, leaving that seat open for the remaining games on the daily schedule.
He said those tickets could be "recycled" rather than allow the seats to remain empty.
"There are things we can do," Coe said.
Swimming, featuring superstars Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, is perhaps the hardest ticket. Public seating for swim finals is all sold out, according to a LOCOG spokesman at the Aquatics Centre, and all but a small number of the most expensive seats for the morning sessions are sold out as well.
"When you see empty seats, this is in nonpublic seating, what we call accredited seats," the spokesman said. "We as an organization have been reviewing who should have been sitting in those seats and why they aren't sitting there. We don't want empty seats."
The spokesman declined to give attendance figures but said the arena holds about 17,500 for swimming and somewhat less for diving, because some seats in the upper reaches that have unobstructed views for swimming have obstructed views for diving.
He said some days it is possible to buy tickets at the box office from a small allotment of seats held back until the needs of camera positions are determined.
At the basketball venue, the upper bowl was fairly packed and there were some empty seats in the lower bowl for Brazil-Australia.
Women's soccer in Scotland has looked bad, though Wednesday's debut set a record for most attended women's game in Scottish history. Still, only about a third of the 18,090 seats were purchased at the box office.
The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper described lagging ticket saddles for Olympic soccer matches on the whole, "with a particular lack of interest in Glasgow."
The stands were completely full for women's team archery at historic Lord's Cricket Ground Sunday, despite consistent fits of light rain. Only a handful of empty seats were spotted when the United States faced China in a quarterfinal.
"We've been sold out all week," venue media manager Vanessa Bellamy said of the 4,500-seat facility. "It's been good all the way through."
The stately site calls itself the home of cricket. Bellamy believes the tradition-rich site has lured fans.
"I think Lord's is a huge, huge draw," she said. "It's a truly unique place. Normally, you'd have to wear a jacket and tie in here. We're very privileged to be here."
Stands were very full at women's gymnastics. The less-expensive top sections were full, of course, and military folks filled up one section of end zone area. To their right was a section of empty seats.
Members of the 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery were rotated into the gymnastics, according to staff Sgt. Marc Robson. Those inside get to watch; those outside work security.
"I was told to let the boys come in and enjoy the show," Robson said. "Look at them they seem to be liking it just fine."