Prized Olympic tickets entrusted to foreign delegations are being openly sold by touts on the streets of Britain, it emerged last night. They are cashing in on the huge demand for seats by selling tickets sent overseas by Games organizers.
The revelation came as a row raged over embarrassing scenes of banks of empty seating at many Games venues – including last night’s swimming finals. Last night Scotland Yard said every illegal seller arrested so far had held tickets despatched overseas to national committees and official re-sellers. One of the touts held is from Germany, another from Slovakia.
The discovery raises further questions about the way in which precious tickets are allocated by the International Olympic Committee. And it will fuel anger among millions of British sport fans who have been left watching events on TV because they failed to get a seat in last year’s ballot.
The Yard confirmed that about 20 people had been arrested attempting to sell tickets since the opening ceremony on Friday.
Yesterday spectators who bought tickets for the Olympic Park, because all venues inside were sold out of lower-priced tickets, had the frustration of watching pictures on the big screen of unfilled seats. But a prickly Lord Coe insisted the ticketing process had worked. He even dismissed pictures of empty seats as ‘holiday snaps’ before admitting troops and students could be used to fill gaps.
‘We take it seriously,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to see swathes of those seats empty and that’s why we will make sure, where we can, people are in those seats when they are not used.’ The London 2012 chairman added: ‘Let’s put this in perspective. Those venues are stuffed to the gunwales. The public are in there.’
Initially, the empty spaces were blamed on ‘no-shows’ from blocks given to sponsors but yesterday the finger was pointed at the athletes, media and sports federations, who cannot be bothered to use their entitlement to a seat at the venue.
Designer Paul Chandler, 42, who travelled down to the Olympic Park from Nottingham with his family, added: ‘Standing in the wet watching pictures of empty seats on the big screen, we feel betrayed.’
Sally Pookey, 31, who lives less than a mile from the Olympic Park, said: ‘I felt disgusted when I saw all the gaps in the stands.’ Last night, Team GB cyclist Geraint Thomas said: ‘It’s quite sad, seeing all the empty seats.’
Lord Coe revealed yesterday how troops, students and teachers were being drafted in to help end the embarrassing spectacle of empty seats at Olympic venues. The Locog chairman said fans with tickets could have them upgraded so they can sit in more expensive areas reserved for VIP members of the 'Olympic family'. He added that tickets for sports held in double sessions, such as hockey, basketball, water polo and handball, were being recycled and re-sold as people leave.
A MoD spokesperson said: LOGOG has kindly offered service men and women working on venue security to make use of unutilised seating when they are off duty. These seats will be made available to venue security personnel to utilise on a voluntary basis when off duty. Olympics organisers had to call in extra military personnel before the Games after private firm G4S failed to provide enough civilian security guards.
Asked whether the military would always be brought in whenever anything went wrong during the Games, Lord Coe joked: 'We won't be cancelling leave to make sure they're sitting in our venues.