The vast number of empty seats at the “sold-out” Beijing Olympics has baffled television and live spectators since the games began. But the mystery is finally starting to unravel.
With signs in Chinese and translated English reading “Please Tickets,” out-of-country visitors wander Beijing streets in an attempt to get tickets to see the events. Meanwhile, spectators inside have their pick of seats in the largely empty venues.
The reason? According to Chinese bloggers and one of the volunteer ticket sellers, China’s communist regime is deeply worried troublemakers will cause an embarrassing incident at the games.
According to one volunteer ticket seller in Beijing, the regime has been less concerned about the preliminary games and tickets were more easily obtained for those events.
But for the all-important final events no tickets will be available at the box office, the volunteer said, because the government does not know who will be a “troublemaker” or “whistleblower.”
For that reason, she said, expect even more empty seats for the finals, such as the men’s basketball match that will be attended by heads of state. She added that she too was unable to get tickets the finals for herself or her family although she could get tickets for earlier events.
The Times online reported that Chinese bloggers have said the regime is fearful of large “uncontrollable crowds,” and has restricted tickets in an effort to keep attendance down.
So while relatives of Olympic athletes wander around stadiums in a desperate attempt to find tickets, empty venues add insult to injury. The organizers were also criticized for allotting many of the available tickets to sponsors and reporters.
After the complaints became intense, organized cheer groups began to appear in some of the stands. Groups of apparently organized Chinese were seen at the women's Marathon, each group sporting different colored T-shirts.
The Olympic organizers have admitted to bringing in hordes of "volunteer" spectators to cheer from the otherwise empty seats.
Meanwhile, families of Australian athletes have called on the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee to clamp down on ticket scalpers. Illegal ticket sales have reached prices so high there are few affordable tickets.
"It is sad if people who genuinely want to go there can't get hold of a ticket and they are importing fans to fill up the stands," said John Coates, president of the Australian Olympic Committee.
Chinese bloggers are also complaining about the so-called “sold-out” events.
“People are so angry because they slept all night outside ticket booths and got nothing and now they see this,” said one blogger, Jian Yu, in the Times article.