Venues are "stuffed to the gunnels", insists Coe after London 2012 empty seats embarrassment
Sunday, 29 July 2012
July 29 - London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe today launched a robust defence of his organisation's ticket policy at the Olympic Games, insisting that the swathes of empty seats witnessed at several venues would not continue beyond the early stages of competition.
Swimming and gymnastics are just two of the arenas that were far from full on the first official day of the Games yesterday, with some Australian swimmers reportedly disappointed they had to collect their medals in front of blocks of unoccupied seats.
One of the most embarrassing sights was at Wimbledon where the match between British hopeful Anne Keothavong and former world number one Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki was played to a half-empty Centre Court.
In the build-up to the Games, organisers were at pains to stress they were overwhelmed with ticket requests, leaving thousands of others hugely disappointed.
The sight of whole sections of empty seats will infuriate those who missed out amid a growing storm over whether or not the fault lay with corporate sponsors simply not bothering to take up their allocation.
Coe revealed the unoccupied seats were actually due to accredited officials, including national team members, still planning their timetable.
"Let us put this in perspective," Coe told a press conference here.
"Those venues are stuffed to the gunnels.
"The public are in there.
"There are tens of thousands of people at this moment within the accredited 'family' that are trying to figure out what their day looks like, where they are going to be asked to go to, frankly working out how you divide your time."
He predicted the no-shows would not continue.
"Certainly this is not going to be an issue through the Games," said Coe.
"This is not unfamiliar in the preliminary rounds.
"We are early in the process."
He admitted, however, that the military – brought in to assist with security in the aftermath of the G4S debacle – were being allocated any spare seats for free along with local teachers and students.
In addition, 1,000 tickets for today's gymnastics went on sale last night and were quickly snapped up.
Britain's Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt, eager to avoid a repetition of Beijing four years ago, has admitted the empty seats were "very disappointing" but Coe shrugged off any embarrassment by promising the issue would be sorted.
Saying he was not in the business of naming and shaming the guilty parties, Coe nevertheless bemoaned the venue gaps at the Aquatics Centre and elsewhere even though some venues such as rowing, boxing, shooting and handball were full.
Students, teachers and troops had been given some of the empty seats, most of which had been "accredited seats" reserved for teams, federations and Olympic officials.
"I'm not sure naming and shaming is what we are into," Coe said.
"[But] I don't want to see swathes of seats empty and will make sure we can do everything we can to fill them.
"For example we looked at gymnastics today and could see empty seats in the accredited area so were able to move some troops so they were sitting there this morning enjoying the gymnastics.
"But we will not see this as an issue long-term."
With so many double sessions taking place, Coe said it was not surprising that there was a constant turnover.
"It's not easy at the beginning of the Games to ask people exactly how, where and when they're going to be in those seats," he said.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) communications director Mark Adams insisted that sponsors were not to blame.
"It's completely wrong to say this is a sponsors issue," he said.
"It's a whole range of people – federations, athletes, some media, a handful of people; largely speaking the sponsors are in other areas.
"A majority of sponsors have turned up."
He was backed up by Jackie Brock-Doyle, his London 2012 counterpart.
"The sponsors are coming out in their droves," she said.