It wouldn’t be the Olympics without controversy. Broadcasts of events including aquatics, rowing, tennis and basketball have revealed swaths of empty seats, resulting in an outcry over why these have not been filled.
London 2012 chairman Lord Sebastian Coe is saying that venues are “stuffed to the gunnels” and that the empty seats will not be a “long-term issue” throughout the Games. The British Olympic committee chairman, Lord Moynihan, is calling for a “30-minute rule” for attendees to take their seats which, if vacant, should be filled with home fans.
LOCOG, the London Organizing Committee of the Olympics and Paralympic Games, is promising a “full review.” The answer so far is that the empty seats are those reserved for the “Olympic family,” of International Olympic Committee officials, National Olympic Committees, international federations and sponsors. Of the 8.8 million tickets issued, the groups were to receive 5.5 percent.
Earlier Olympics including those in 2008 in Beijing had the same issue of empty seats at popular events. London Olympics organizers said they would make especial attempts to avoid the problem. But many still found themselves shut out from the ticket process which had “started with a heavily oversubscribed ballot but ended with some of the most expensive tickets still remaining and 500,000 football tickets removed from sale, all venues should be full.”
London 2012 Olympics Brought To You (At Least Somewhat) By the Private Sector
The privatization of security for the London games had already come under attack well before the first event was held. The British government had signed a $355 million contract with private security company G4S which employs over 657,000 in 150 countries. But, barely a month before the opening ceremony, the company said it could not provide some 3,500 of the contracted 13,000 staff. Then many G4S employees failed to turn up for the shifts so 18,200 British military personnel are now on the Olympic site or standby, more than the UK has stationed in Afghanistan. (Keep reading to find out how else soldiers are being called to “help out.”)
G4S’s market value has fallen $938 million and, according to the Financial Times, the British government is seeking to activate the penalty clauses in its contract. But perhaps the worst of it is that, fiasco and all, G4S stil holds million-dollar contracts to take over civilian duties for police forces in some communities (do you sense shades of the shadowy conservative American organization ALEC?). G4S obtains nearly 30 percent of its revenue from British public service contracts.
While the British government funded the clearing and development of the East London site for the Olympics, LOCOG is in charge of organizing the games on a 2.2 billion pound budget. Paul Deighton, the former partner and head of European operations at Goldman Sachs, runs LOCOG.
On the one hand, it is nothing new that the private sector is heavily involved in the Olympics. Certainly companies like Adidas sponsoring the Games is “practically a routine business,” says the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine. But it is also noted that private sponsors are benefiting from the Games “like never before.” Companies are said mostly to be gaining international exposure rather than making money but, says the Frankfurter Allgemeine, it was indeed the extensive possibility of private sector involvement that was an “essential reason” that London was awarded the contract for the 2012 Olympics.
LOCOG has indeed gotten to work to address the unused seats situation: It has brought in British soldiers to fill up what would otherwise have been empty rows. (Here’s a photo.)
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Photo by markhillary