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China: Empty Seats A Concern for Olympic Games, Cheer Squads Are Used To Fill Up

Posted by Author on August 13, 2008

Paul Kelso, The,Tuesday August 12 2008-

Olympic organisers admitted today that they are using volunteers to fill swathes of empty seats at competition venues as concerns grow at the failure of ticket holders to attend events.

Despite claims from the Beijing organising committee (Bocog) that all 6.8m tickets for the Games have been sold and confident predictions of full houses at every event, the first three days of competition have seen spaces available at most venues.

There have also been large numbers of yellow-shirted “cheerleaders” present at some events, recruited to create an atmosphere and to prevent the embarrassing spectacle of empty seats appearing on television.

At the Capital Gymnasium earlier this week there were three blocks of several hundred yellow-shirted spectators cheering loudly for Venezuela as they took on the USA at volleyball.

Yesterday, organisers claimed that the cheerleaders were in fact spectators, but today Wang Wei, vice-president of Bocog, conceded that they had been recruited by venue managers to fill seats.

“We are concerned about the fact we do not have full stadia,” he said. “We think it is due to the weather, the humidity and then the rain, and on the first couple of days there were not many spectators who showed up.”

“There are also reserved seats for the Olympic family that have not been taken up, the preliminary rounds are sometimes not attended, and people at other events have tickets for the whole day and do not attend the every event.

“If local venue managers find there are not enough people in the venue or too many empty seats they arrange for local volunteers as cheerleaders, and they are told to cheer for both teams to create a better atmosphere. If the ticket-holders turn up then they get up and go.”

The vast majority of tickets have been sold to Chinese nationals but despite the assurances of the organisers Olympic enthusiasm has not tempted them all to take up their seats. Ticket touts have also been operating despite it being illegal under Chinese law.

Bocog’s problems are compounded by the situation at the Olympic Green and the main park, which has been sparsely attended because only ticket holders can get access. Beijing residents without tickets can be seen walking around the perimeter of the heavily secured site attempting to get a glimpse of the Bird’s Nest stadium and the Water Cube.

The situation is understood to have angered some IOC sponsors, whose expensively-erected exhibition pavilions have been deserted. Wang Wei said that Bocog would act to admit more people. “Yesterday we saw that there were not enough people in the Olympic Green, and we encourage more people to come. Local communities can apply for tickets, and people from around China can come through travel agents.”

– Original: Olympics: Empty seats a concern for Games, The Guardian

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