London 2012 has been dogged by ticketing controversy ever since the first tickets went on sale last year. So when rows and rows of empty seats were photographed this week, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) found itself in hot water again.
Among the events hit worst by a lack of crowds were the swimming, gymnastics and tennis and LOCOG has promised to investigate why rows of seats were left empty at a range of events - something which prompted heavy criticism in the media and a huge backlash from the public.
Many of the empty seats are those allocated to international federations for individual sports, where dignitaries have not bothered to turn up for events, while others are public seats that have remained unsold after being allocated to foreign countries.
Faced with a public and media backlash, LOCOG quite rightly reacted very quickly and didn’t try to downplay the issue that has infuriated many people. It also seemed to have a plan on how to react.
LOCOG implied that the problem is centered on the ‘Olympic family’, which includes officials, sports federations and journalists, with LOCOG stating the problem was with accredited groups such as governing bodies and the media. This was a good move – not blaming one scapegoat but an entire ‘family’ of corporate and government bodies.
By doing this, LOCOG has done a pretty good job of passing the blame on to this nebulous group of people that could be anyone. It has also been helped by the fact that the true story of why these seats are empty is one that suits it from a narrative point of view.
Sponsors too, such as McDonald's, Adidas and Samsung, were quick to defend their role in the swathes of empty seats, with a number issuing statements confirming that they were using their allocations.
Lord Coe said yesterday that many of the seats had been given to off duty soldiers brought in as last-minute replacements for G4S guards. However, this does nothing to get the seats into the eager hands of the public, hundreds of thousands of whom are still disappointed at not getting the Olympics tickets they wanted, if any at all.
LOCOG has now started clawing back unsold and unused tickets to sell to the British public, with 3,000 released on Sunday night and thousands more to go on sale each day as they become available.
The tickets will be sold through the official London 2012 website, on a first come, first served basis. All 3,000 tickets released on Sunday were quickly snapped up.
This way, LOCOG is also able to suggest that it has stepped in like a white knight to sort out this problem and take tickets from visiting dignitaries who can’t be bothered to turn up, handing them back to the public and emerging as ‘good guys’.
Lord Coe has promised to name and shame those organisations that have wasted their seating allocations – a bold move as if he doesn’t and the story keeps on occupying such a high profile, the nation’s media will do the naming and shaming for him.