PoliticsHome | Only the latest five entries on the PhiWire are visible to non-subscribers
- Sign up to see last 24 hours
Dont have an account?Sign up here
Tuesday 31st July 2012 | 13:24
David Cameron confessed recently to being an 'Ovett man'* rather than a 'Coe man' during the Olympians' rivalry in the 1980s.
Since then, the PM has warmed to Seb (and recently confessed to him his previous allegiance), but the noble Lord has some serious questions to answer over empty seats at the London Games.
As yet more snaps come in of unfilled events, it's worth recalling this exchange between Lord Coe, Keith Mills (deputy chair of Locog) and the late Alan Keen during a DCMS Select Committee hearing on October 18, 2005
Alan Keen: There are going to be many people watching around the world. We do not want them watching anything where the stadium is not completely full, if possible. Will that flexibility be taken right through to when the Games are taking place, that those likely spaces can be filled quickly by volunteers or free tickets to schools and that sort of thing? Presumably that has been taken into account?
Mr Mills: That is where you do need technology. What you have to stop is the abuse of ticketing. For those of you who have tried to buy a theatre ticket in London or a ticket to a soccer match, you will know that there is a very active and thriving black market for tickets in every country in the world. Within the constraints of ensuring that there is fair play, with the use of technology (and techniques such as they use at Wimbledon incidentally where somebody leaving Wimbledon deposits their ticket on the way out for somebody to use on the way in) those sorts of things are difficult to do with the current physical ticketing systems they have used in past Games, but there are some interesting electronic solutions coming through at which we will be looking.
Lord Coe: This is the ability to allow people to see ticket availability, particularly on the day, and actually target those people that you know want a place in the stadium at the beginning of the day. When something becomes available, you are able to communicate with them.
That last answer from Coe suggests that that even seven years ago, Coe suggested unfilled seats could be made available on the day.
It wasn't just Parliament who were interested, either. The London Assembly specifically raised this with Paul Deighton, Locog chief exec, in October 2009:
John Biggs (AM): I think there is a risk which people took from the Beijing Games that there were empty seats, the TV pictures did not look good, but, more to the point, city residents who might have wanted to be there were not able to get there and seats were blocked by corporate sponsors or whatever. Have you got that right, both in terms of the management of it and in terms of the pricing and accessibility of tickets to Londoners?
Paul Deighton (Chief Executive Officer, LOCOG): This is a very important priority for us. It is also a very important priority for the Olympic movement. It is an embarrassment to everybody if you have the whole of the world knocking on the outside of a venue and, when the TV cameras pan around the inside, they see empty seats. How can that be right? So you can be sure we are absolutely focused on filling those seats, we are absolutely focused on filling them with fans who will create a great atmosphere and we, and the International Olympic Committee, absolutely share that objective…
We will be working on a Wimbledon type programme so that, when people leave early, their seats can be recycled back to others who are waiting to come in. So the seats are never empty in a session.
Yes, you read that right: a 'Wimbledon-type programme'. We've some evidence of that, but it's still baffling why the 'Olympic family' seats are not being redistributed on a similar use-it-or-lose-it basis.
But there remain wider questions about Coe and Locog's promises to make this an 'affordable' games for Brits who wanted tickets.
In the same session of the DCMS hearing above, Coe pledged:
"There will be roughly 9.5 to 10 million tickets at the time of the Games; that is about 8 million for the Olympic Games and 1 point something for the Paralympics. Just as a small teaser of our thinking, we want roughly half that number to be out in the marketplace at about £20 or perhaps even marginally less. We are very aware that this needs to be a Games, as Keith so rightly said, that meets all our revenue and funding requirements but that is accessible."
So, that's 'half' of the tickets priced at £20 or less. The Lib Dems have repeatedly questioned if this is a true figure. But Coe and Deighton repeated the promise at an ill-tempered exchange with the London Assembly in March this year. Deighton said:
"What I can absolutely confirm, there is no question about this, is that we will deliver 2.5 million tickets at £20 or under." (page 12)
"We told you before we have one million non-football tickets and 1.5 million football tickets at £20 and under. We have told you that already. That is what we will deliver." (page 13).
But how can the pledge now be met, given that seating capacity at football matches8 has recently been reduced by half a million?
And guess what? We won't know whether Locog has actually met its promises until after the Games....Very TwentyTwelve
*FOOTNOTE: I hereby declare an interest: I was an Ovett man too. Not that that affects my reporting in any way...
UPDATE: Apparently, Locog have been aware for some time of the danger of not selling enough football tickets. Gareth Thomas, whose Harrow West constituency is near Wembley, texts me to say:
"On Weds Aug 1st, at Wembley Stadium, kicking off at 5pm is Korea v Gabon. In theory, only £60 tickets are available. In reality, it is difficult to believe the whole stadium is going to be anywhere near full. Why can't school children from Harrow be allowed to fill the empty seats?"
Be briefed for £1.50 a week...PoliticsHome PRO Find out more