Public squeezed out by VIPs
LONDON — Millions of people have tried and failed to get tickets for events at the Olympics, and officials have spent the whole week trying to explain why television shots keep showing empty seats in the background — seats that have been allocated to people closely associated with the rings.
But let’s face it: There are heaps of VIPs out there at the Games. Even before you get to presidents or prime ministers taking in the sights, there are more than 200 teams participating, and each comes with a passel of officials — like the herd that is the US Olympic Committee.
Then there are the others who lead sports federations — the people who run FIFA, the world soccer federation, and the IAAF — all get seats for things like ping pong and badminton. If the officials are busy, those seats go empty.
And then there’s the media, along with the broadcast rights holders and network executives that come along with them. And that’s even before you get to the international sponsors — Coke, McDonald’s, Dow — all of whom use the Olympics to enhance their business opportunities.
‘‘The question is should the number of tickets the [VIPs] are able to get be rationed in some meaningful and sensible form?’’ said Stephen Greyser, an emeritus professor at Harvard Business School.
Even Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins took on the ticketing issues after his gold-medal race, describing it as a bit of a ‘‘prawn sandwich fest.’’
‘‘It was good to go back outside the gates where all the real fans were,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a shame they could not see the medal ceremony.’’
Critics claim that millions in taxpayer money were spent to build stadiums and finance the games, only for the public to be left out.
All that privilege does not sit well with a public that paid 9.3 billion pounds ($14.6 billion) for the London Olympics and who went through rounds of a complicated ticket process in hopes of seeing something. The first round of sales saw 22 million requests for the 6.6 million tickets available.
London organizers say they are doing what they can to address the ticketing issues.
‘‘We always said we wanted the British public to be in there and the demand for the British public has been so enormous that we will continue to drive any tickets that we get back and any contingencies, any returns, direct to the British public,’’ said committee spokeswoman Jackie Brock-Doyle.
One really special group — the sponsors — has it the best of all, in part because they are so critical to putting on the Games.
At the same time the number of tickets being sold has actually declined in comparison to some games. The 1996 Atlanta Games made 11 million tickets available, just under double what London offered.