By Mike Rowbottom at the University of Tsukuba, Tokyo Campus

London 2012 was only able to sell tickets to the UK or Europe itself having to hand over worldwide sales to other agencies ©Getty ImagesThe Olympic Movement is out of date in terms of its attitude to selling tickets for the Games and needs to move into the digital age sooner rather than later, according to Paul Williamson, director of ticketing for London 2012, who is now fulfilling the same function for next year's Rugby World Cup.

Williamson presided over a ticketing operation in London which sold 99.9 per cent of its available stock online, with canny marketing decisions encouraging a full take-up of tickets even for sports not widely popular in the United Kingdom, such as handball, where the entire complement of 250,000 was sold.

But, speaking at the Sport Event Management and Organisation Seminar hosted here by the Tsukuba International Academy for Sport Studies  (TIAS) with the assistance of the International Academy of Sport Science and Technology Mastering Sport group, Williamson made it clear he believes the overall system of delivering Olympic tickets to spectators is flawed.

"For the London 2012 Games, we were only allowed to sell tickets in the UK and Europe," he said.

"Around the world that responsibility was held by National Olympic Committees, who appointed travel agents who came to us for tickets.

"We tried to make sure, for instance, that we had more beach volleyball tickets to give to Brazil.

"But we weren't allowed to sell those tickets there ourselves.

"It's a controversial area.

"The problem is that the current Olympic business plan for selling tickets doesn't recognise the existence of the internet.

"If any of you want a ticket for a rugby match in Cape Town, for example, you will go straight to the internet to try and buy one.

"It feels like a natural thing.

"The Olympic Movement doesn't accept that yet.

"But sooner or later it will have to change."

Handball sold out its 250,000 tickets at London 2012 despite its lack of popularity and history in the host country Britain ©Getty ImagesHandball sold out its 250,000 tickets at London 2012 despite its lack of popularity and history in the host country Britain ©Getty Images

Williamson - who explained with a wry smile that in ticketing there was never any good news, only bad news or no news - also addressed the issue of empty seats highlighted in the early days of London 2012, maintaining that the criticism levelled at the time by the media and some politicians was simply "wrong".

"We got a lot of flak during the early days of the London 2012 Games when there were pictures of venues with empty seats and the media were doing stories asking why they were empty and talking about sponsors getting free tickets and then not bothering to take them up," he said.

"We had politicians being interviewed on TV saying what a disgrace it was.

"But they were wrong.

"Sponsors got no free tickets - their tickets were all paid for.

"Sponsors had about four per cent of the Games tickets, National Olympic Committees had about five per cent and International Federations one per cent.

"The numbers were quite small.

"The empty seats that you saw were not those given over to sponsors, they were accredited seats for the media, athletes and VIPs who were watching the sessions."

Asked when the Olympic Games would switch to using electronic tickets, Williamson responded: "I don't know, but someone will have to make the call at some time."

Williamson added that Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 will face similar challenges to those faced by London 2012 in terms of trying to sell tickets for sports that are unknown or unpopular among home spectators.

"I think it's along the lines of, 'How do you sell handball or taekwondo in London?' he said.

"It is a challenge.

"Wherever an Olympics land, you know basically that 10 or your sports will be hot, 10 will be cold and the remaining six, or eight, will be in the middle.

"So you have to work very hard to sell out the Games.

"It's tough.

"For instance, Rio 2016 doesn't have any history in field hockey or rugby sevens - but the Organising Committee will have to do something clever to fill those venues.

"How do you sell hockey in Japan?

"You can't tell the IOC (International Olympic Committee) you don't want it.

"When you get the Games, you get the lot.

"You have got to find a way to put products on sale and make them attractive.

"It's no use saying, 'We sold out in athletics and judo, but we forgot about hockey and no one came.'

"That's not good enough."

Capacity crowds at every venue helped make London 2012 one of the most successful Olympic and Paralympic Games in history ©Getty ImagesCapacity crowds at every venue helped make London 2012 one of the most successful Olympic and Paralympic Games in history ©Getty Images

Asked if he thought Tokyo would find it harder to shift Paralympics tickets than London 2012 - which produced a 100 per cent sell-out in the Paralympics - Williamson responded: "I think that Tokyo has a very sophisticated economy, with a long history of heritage in sport.

"I think Rio is tougher.

"I think Beijing was tougher.  

"I think Tokyo's depth of values and history in the Olympics means the Paralympics tickets will go more easily."

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