Inquiry into Olympics empty seats


London's Olympic organisers have opened an investigation into empty seats on the first day of the Games yesterday.

Following a school holiday and after months of public complaints over the inability of thousands in Britain to buy tickets, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the minister responsible for the Olympics, said he was disappointed by the empty seats and that the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) were looking into it.

"LOCOG are doing a full investigation into what happened," Mr Hunt told the BBC a day after a widely praised opening ceremony starring Queen Elizabeth, Paul McCartney and Rowan Atkinson.

Television coverage of events yesterday showed empty seating, and visitors to venues found scores of empty seats in the early part of the day at the aquatics centre, in the basketball arena and later on at Wimbledon for the tennis. There was also plenty of space to stretch out in the Olympic Park.

"We think it was accredited seats that belong to sponsors, but if they are not going to turn up, we want those tickets to be available for members of the public, because that creates the best atmosphere. So we are looking at this very urgently at the moment," Mr Hunt said.

Sports Minister Hugh Robertson said he was surprised that the events were not full.

LOCOG became used to putting up the "sold out" sign within minutes of each tranche of tickets going on sale to the public, and some ticket box offices at venues yesterday in the park still had queues of people seeking to buy tickets for selected sports.

LOCOG said in a statement late yesterday: "Where there are empty seats, we will look at who should have been sitting in the seats, and why they did not attend. 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."

The body declined to provide a figure for the number of people in the park yesterday or how many tickets had been sold but said that 11 million people would attend the Games.

"I was at the Beijing Games in 2008 and one of the lessons we took away from that was that full stadia create the best atmosphere, it's best for the athletes, it's more fun for spectators, and it has been an absolute priority," Mr Hunt said. "It is a shame this happened but we are going to do everything we can to make sure we fill up those stadia."