Organisers sought to quell growing public frustration on Sunday over empty seats across venues at the London Olympics, where China laid down an early marker with a world record win in the pool and a commanding early lead in the medals table.
Images of rows of vacant rows at football stadiums, Wimbledon, the aquatic centre and beyond has angered Britons who tried and failed to buy tickets in the buildup to the Games after being told they had sold out.
More empty seats were reported on Sunday including at the equestrian dressage at Greenwich Park, despite the draw of Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter Zara Phillips making an Olympic debut.
Heavy rain after a hot, dry spell also put a dampener on outdoor events on the second day of full sporting contest, as did the announcement that Uzbek gymnast Luiza Galiulina was provisionally banned from the Games for a positive drugs test.
Olympic organisers launched an urgent inquiry into the seating fiasco to nail down precisely who had not taken up their places and why.
“It’s infuriating to see so many empty seats on TV. Surely it can’t be beyond the organisers to allow real sports fans to fill them up on a first-come first-served basis?” said Ed Shorthose, a London-based father of two who had been trying for months to get tickets to see the Games.
London organising committee chairman Sebastian Coe told reporters he thought the problem would resolve itself over time.
“I don’t think this is going to be an issue, certainly it’s not going to be an issue right through the Games,” he said.
The embarrassment took some of the shine off the Games, where sport has begun in earnest after an exuberant opening ceremony on Friday night which thrilled Britain but also baffled much of the world because of its arty eccentricity.
China jumped to the head of the rankings with five gold medals overall, four of them on Saturday, the first full day of competitive sport at the July 27-Aug. 12 tournament.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2012.