I was on LBC yesterday morning talking about the empty seats at the Olympics.
I’m amazed, from a PR perspective, that LOCOG and others in a position of knowledge have handled the issue so badly. Yes, empty seats are really annoying for people (of whom I am one) who tried for lots of tickets in the ballot and didn’t get any (actually, I lie: I got four for the equestrianism), but that doesn’t mean that telling the truth about why they are empty is not the best policy; while trying to pin it on corporate sponsors, or suggest cack-handed solutions, are definitely the worst.
The seats are empty because those in the ‘Olympic family’ have accreditation which allows them to roam around and access all areas. You can argue that there are too many people in the Olympic family; and I wouldn’t disagree with your view. But the idea that you have people accredited as representatives of the IOC, LOCOG, or one of the national sports federations or teams and then don’t give them a place to sit when they come in, is daft.
An ‘access all areas’ pass means that the people in question will decide where to go based on who from their country is competing. That means that they might pop into the volleyball when it’s their country, and then head across to a different venue to see someone else from their homeland. When there are 204 countries taking part, you don’t need many people from each country to be accredited to leave blocks of seats.
The suggestion, therefore, that ‘the seats should be given up if they are not occupied in the first half hour’ is either silly, or playing to the gallery, or both. I would think that the BOA Chair would want to be poolside when a Brit is competing in a final; but he may hot-foot it across from Greenwich Park in the nick of time for the relevant race, preferring to see Team GB contest a gold there first rather than watching other swimming races in which we have no competitor. It’s absolutely right that a man in his position (and others like him: the Chef de Mission, the Minister for Sport, etc.) should be present at as many key moments for Team GB as possible. When he gets to the aquatics centre, 35 minutes into the session, what’s he meant to do: stand in the fire exit?
Sure, it might have been better managed so that the number of seats available was closer to those likely to turn up at a given moment rather than to those accredited – in the late stages, people will congregate in one area, and in the early stages they won’t – but to try to pretend (rather than acknowledging that position) that this is somehow big bad corporates and their ‘not real fans’ guests not turning up is just nonsense. Actually, it isn’t “just nonsense” – it’s disingenuous nonsense. They should just tell it as it is.