Olympics: Row after VIPs leave gaps at prime events

AN inquiry was under way on Sunday to find out why so many seats at London’s Olympics were empty – after millions were disappointed at missing out on tickets.

But organisers said they would not “name and shame” sponsors and Olympic officials who had bought or been allocated prime seats for early events – and then failed to turn up.

They were prompted to act after gaps were visible at a number of venues, including the Aquatics Centre where British medal hope Hannah Miley missed out on a podium place.

In contrast, huge crowds lined the streets, where tickets were not required, to watch Mark Cavendish and Team GB compete in the cycling road race.

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said the empty seats were “very disappointing” and suggested they could be offered to members of the public.

He added: “I was at the Beijing Games, in 2008, and one of the lessons that we took away from that, is that full stadia create the best atmosphere, it’s best for the athletes, it’s more fun for the spectators, it’s been an absolute priority.

“Locog are doing a full investigation into what happened, I think it was accredited seats that belonged to sponsors, but if they’re not going to turn up, we want those tickets to be available for members of the public, because that creates the best atmosphere.

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“We are looking at this very urgently at the moment.”

He said a system had been introduced for these Olympics similar to the one used at Wimbledon, where people coming out of the stadium handed on their tickets so the seats could be made available to other people.

“So we are trying a lot of innovations, it’s a shame this happened, but we are going to do everything we can to make sure we fill up these stadia.”

Gaps in the seating were also visible at the gymnastics, handball, volleyball, badminton and basketball arenas yesterday.

The cheaper seats higher in the stands were mostly full but those lower down, which are generally more expensive, were not filled.

One basketball spectator, Jane Smith, from London, said: “It’s very disappointing to see this, particularly as we all tried so hard to get our tickets. It doesn’t help the atmosphere at all.”

Other fans took to Twitter to express their concerns.

One fan wrote: “All those empty seats should have been given to the locals or sold on first come first serve on the day. Games are looking real empty!”

A spokesman for Locog said the majority of the empty seats were believed to belong to accredited groups such as governing bodies and the media.

He added that some tickets remained unsold and urged members of the public to check online for opportunities to attend the games.

“Many of our venues were packed to the rafters today. Where there are empty seats, we will look at who should have been sitting in the seats, and why they did not attend,” he said.

“Early indications are that the empty seats are in accredited seating areas, but this is day one, and our end of day review will provide a fuller picture of attendance levels across all our venues.”

London 2012 chairman Lord Coe has previously threatened to name and shame companies which do not use their tickets.

The controversy came after film director Danny Boyle’s often amazing, sometimes humorous and always quintessentially British opening ceremony proved an incredible success in London’s Olympic Stadium on Friday night.

The three-hour spectacular titled Isles of Wonder was full of surprises with the 64,000 spectators witnessing a stadium transformed into a green and pleasant land with sheep and cows grazing where the world’s finest athletes will soon be battling it out for gold medals.

The show was kicked off by Tour de France hero Bradley Wiggins who rang the world’s largest harmonically-tuned bell – weighing 23 tonnes and measuring two metres tall – before the opening lines of William Blake’s Jerusalem were heard.

Sir Kenneth Branagh, dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, entered the scene reciting Caliban’s speech from Shakespeare’s The Tempest before the rolling, tranquil hills of the opening sequence made way for a more intense section marking Britain’s metamorphosis into the Industrial Revolution. Towering chimney’s billowing smoke rose from the fields below in the section titled Pandemonium.

And then in one of the most moving moments of the whole evening the crowd fell silent to remember the fallen of two World Wars before the drumming built up to a crescendo once again.

Then for the first truly stand-out moment of the evening as four giant rings first hovered before descending from the sky while another forged below by the workers of the Industrial Revolution rose up from the ground to meet them in mid-air before all five burst into flames revealing the Olympic symbol.

The darkness inside the stadium was broken by the sound of Handel, which heralded the Queen’s arrival – apparently after parachuting from a helicopter, in one of the many tongue-in-cheek moments.

Earlier in the evening the Queen told guests at Buckingham Palace: “To me the spirit of togetherness is a most important part of the Olympic ideal and the British people can be proud of the part they have played in keeping the spirit alive.”

The next part of the �27million extravaganza honoured children’s literature and the National Health Service with nurses and patients dancing around their beds.

Then in a stark contrast to the previous segments a celebration of British popular culture from the 1960s to the present day brought a cascade of colour and sound to proceedings.

From OMD and The Sex Pistols through to The Prodigy and Underworld the stadium rocked as Boyle reminded the world of some of Britain’s musical exports.

After the rabble-rousing the tempo slowed as Scottish singer Emeli Sande sang Abide With Me while images of spectators’ loved ones who have passed away, including the late fathers of Boyle and Olympics supremo Lord Coe, flashed up on the stadium’s huge screens. Dancers dressed in red, representing the struggle between life and death, bathed in spotlights amid the darkness as Sande’s clear, powerful vocals pierced the East London air.

Then for the athletes parade as Sir Chris Hoy, Britain’s flagbearer, joined athletes from the 204 competing Olympic nations as they smiled and waved during their moment in the spotlight.

And finally the Queen declared the 30th Olympiad officially open. Let the Games begin.

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