Why So Many Empty Seats At the Olympics?

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


Will Rogers
Will Rogers5 years ago

They are not as interested in uk spectators as they are foreigners. All of my foreign friends got all the tickets they applied for. Whenever tourists come to watch, they use hotels, and eat in restaurants and spend thousands! Uk people spend hundreds, and Londoners take the bus to get there. They made sure that they sold the foreign tickets first, but now we can get the crumbs thats leftover. Which is mostly the media and politicos seats, who were allocated a ridiculous 10%. Oh well... At least I am getting to see a few events, such as wrestling (superb!) weightlifting (whoopee!) and the woman's football final at wembley! (fab!) I've also watched the road races on the streets of london! Beautiful. And there are a lot of unticketed events such as sailing, marathon, walking, and a few more free events that I can't think of at the moment.

Martha Clunie
Past Member 5 years ago

I don't want to read what excuses are being offered for empty seats. All I know is that I applied for tickets for 3 totally different events. I specifically chose normal days (no finals or anything ) so that I would have even half a chance of being allocated something. No! Nothing! And everyone else I know that applied? Nada! A debacle of monumental proportions!

Valentina R.
Valentina R5 years ago

In this age of global crisis, athletes who win a medal get also payed! That's just crazy! Italian athletes are the most well-payed of them all! Boycott the Olympics!

In Italian only: http://www.lindipendenza.com/atleti-azzurri-i-piu-pagati-del-mondo-con-le-nostre-tasse/

Berny p.
berny p5 years ago


I think giving the empty seats to military or even people waiting in a "standby" line of some sort seems like a good plan.

ALSO all of the people who think they could have done better....why did you not apply for the job!

Rosemary G.
Rosemary G5 years ago

Imagine all the people who would love to go but cannot afford it..It is the same principle as the total waste caused by our consumption habits and the haves and haves not. That is why I do not watch the games.

Marianne B.
Marianne B5 years ago

tickets too expensive? no interest in that particular event?

John B.
John B5 years ago

Don't watch the Olympics. The games are still way too political and just another way to throw away tax payers money. Athletics have become a step-child in today's games. Thanks Kristina for the article.

A N M.
anne M5 years ago

Well, since the UK and the US decided to turn the Olympics 2012 into nothing more than a militaristic spectacle, I'm amazed anybody except politicians show up there.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener5 years ago


Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener5 years ago