Ticket prices, a lack of interest - So many empty seats, here's why
The low numbers of fans at many events is embarrassing for everyone
A spectator sits among empty seats during athletics events in Rio. Photograph: Dominic Ebenbichler/Reuters
To get from Olympic Park to the Olympic Stadium, you first stand in line for a bus, wait about 20 minutes for it to arrive or else fill up, then sit back in the half-broken seats as it hurtles down towards the junction of Avenida Ayrton Senna, and from there along a three-lane motorway into the mountainous Tijuca National Park.
Then – after passing through a toll booth – the motorway is reduced to two lanes, as it heads through a 3km tunnel before emerging into a part of Rio de Janeiro that you don’t see in any of the tourist guides or the travel shows.
There is no sign of Christ The Redeemer, nor indeed any osf the 246km of coastline of beaches and blue lagoons, only here, sitting anonymously and almost completely out of place, is Rio’s Olympic stadium, surrounded by a few makeshift bars and mostly run down houses and very little else.
And that was getting there via the so-called Olympic bubble: even with designated Olympic lanes, traffic is rarely an operation in free flow, and it’s about a two-hour round trip, including the wait for the bus (at both ends).
God knows what it’s like for the general spectator. It would be unwise and unfair to compare the location of the Olympic Stadium to any sporting venue in Ireland, or indeed any country, but it’s certainly well off the beaten track of Rio, in a distinctly non-inviting part of the city – unappealing for the simple reason there’s nothing going on around it and certainly no atmosphere.
Still that doesn’t explain the glaring number of empty seats that has greeted our daily arrival, not just for the morning sessions but the evening sessions too: Sunday night, which featured the 100m final, was a virtual sell-out, but otherwise the 60,000 seats have been more half empty than half full.
It’s a scene repeated around all the Olympic venues here since the start of the Games. Ironically, one of the few venues full to near capacity yesterday morning was the press conference room at the main press centre, adjacent to Olympic Park, as Maria Andrada, head spokesperson for the Rio Organising Committee, was questioned about the poor ticket sales and attendances, and with only five days remaining, little chance of increasing them.
Part of the problem now is that they can’t give the tickets away – even if they wanted to.
“If we find any more ingenious way to sell tickets we will do so,” said Andrada.
“But the ticket sales is part of the funding of the Olympic Games. As we said several times, we have committed to organising the Olympic Games without public funds, and we need every revenue that we can get, and therefore, we don’t plan to slash the prices further.”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had claimed the Rio organising committee had sold 67 per cent of tickets, accounting for four million out of the six million available. There’s nowhere near that percentage showing up at venues, which suggests those who did purchase tickets aren’t bothering to attend, or can’t afford to.
The Olympic Stadium was actually one of Rio’s existing venues, built as a football stadium in 2007: had they agreed to revamp the Maracanã as their Olympic Stadium it might have been a different story.
Anyway, it’s miles away from the Olympic Park, which at least has something within it, such as the swimming, diving, tennis, gymnastics, basketball venues; it’s also close the athletes’ village and also the Riocentro, the venue for boxing, badminton, and table tennis.
Getting from there to the Olympic Stadium is a marathon, not a sprint. Add in the prohibitive ticket costs in a country slipping further into a crippling recession, plus the general lack of interest, and it’s the perfect storm for the near deserting of so many venues.
Lack of atmosphere
More than for the organisers, or certainly for the media, that’s embarrassing for the athletes. Mark English, one of the first Irish athletes in action in the heats of the 800m last Friday morning, admitted it felt strange to be running in a near- empty stadium, and he had to remind himself these were the Olympics. He’s not alone: several runners from the heats of the men’s 1,500m spoke about the complete lack of atmosphere in what was meant to be one of the most important of the last four years, if not their lives.
“We understand that some athletes are disappointed,” said Andrada. “But we are working within the framework of Games that are privately funded, and that got the help of the IOC, which is a private institution.