Ticketing shambles shames the Games

So far, so…er, iffy. Though die-hard loyalists will doubtless disagree, that’s probably a balanced, overall appraisal of the 2012 Olympics to date, with ticketing issues coming in for withering criticism, despite Seb Coe huffily dismissing all naysayers.

Team GB might have notched up only two medals in as many days (a silver and bronze, which leaves us trailing at 16th, behind Georgia, North Korea and Hungary), but it’s early doors and we’ll improve.

However, whatever the medal final tally, few will forget Danny Boyle’s quirky and uber-imaginative opening ceremony, which, on its own, was worthy of a stack of golds.

Crowns off, too, to The Queen, whose cameo role in it deserves a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for allowing herself to be quite literally ‘sent up’ (and I was particularly amused by Rod Liddle’s Sunday Times column, which carried a photo of a beaming Prince Charles with the quote-bubble, ‘Getting Mummy to jump out of a helicopter at 1,000 ft was my idea.’)

My main gripe (see previous post) is that far from being the People’s Games, this is turning into a corporate junket, spawning yet another ticketing fiasco and casting a shadow on the International Olympic Committee’s thin-skinned, heavy-handed insensitivity.

That the IOC has become so ultra-protectionist over its logo a humble donut/bagel seller was rapped for displaying five, interlocking, coloured rings in his shop window speaks volumes about how money-driven the governing body is.

And try using an ATM in the Games park with a credit card that isn’t a certain sponsor’s brand. ‘Proud to accept only Visa’ say signs over every cash dispenser, much to the ire of holders of other plastic.

Yes, I know, the IOC needs cash to exist, but it’s hardly a charity case. And it will cash in handsomely on the London extravaganza – to the tune of £700M, if reports are correct – and, so long as its copyright isn’t being cynically ripped off, a little light-touch policing of it that recognises the British public’s enthusiasm for the Games and patriotism wouldn’t go amiss.

The arch cynicism, in fact, mainly stems from sponsors and delegates of the ‘Olympic Family’ (or, to re-use Roy Keane’s famous euphemism: the ‘prawn sandwich’ brigade), whose no-shows are making a mockery of some competitions.

SPOT THE CROWD: A smattering of spectators at one Olympic venue – photo: http://www.morethanthegames.co.uk

Hence we see great, gaping gaps in the grandstands for events like the swimming – where the public have to pay up to £400 for the privilege of a seat – so a rent-a-crowd of uniformed squaddies, teachers and students needs to be drafted in to fill them.

One way or another, ticketing has been a serial blight on these Games and whatever Coe contends, the public will rightly demand an inquest on LOCOG, the London organising committee’s handling of the seats-for-sale shambles.

Why, for instance, did the ticketing website list the opening archery event at Lord’s Cricket Ground as ‘ticketless’?  Hundreds turned up, expecting free entry, only to be told ‘ticketless’ meant it was closed to spectators.

Meanwhile, though no fan of The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, I sympathise with her incredulity when she reported that seats for herself and her grandson at the opening ceremony would have set her back over £1,800.

Even the families of competitors are being snubbed at half-empty venues. As the Daily Mail reported this morning:-

Parents and friends of swimmers are said to have been refused entry to the aquatics centre, while relatives of tennis players have been unable to see matches at Wimbledon.

Similar problems have been reported at Eton Dorney for the rowing and the ExCel boxing venue, where parents have only been allowed entry after drawn-out negotiations.

Details of the mix-up emerged as organisers began handing school children front-row seats in a desperate bid to fill venues.

Organisers LOCOG revealed today that it had also taken some 3,000 Olympics tickets from international sporting federations and put them ‘back in the pot’ to be bought by members of the public.

London Mayor Boris Johnson says there had been discussion on ‘how to crack the ticketing problem’ when ministers met in the Cabinet Office this morning.

After the G4S security cock-up and the pre-Games ticket sales folly, the IOC and LOCOG appear barely credible chatelaines of their own Games if, once again, it falls to government to sort out an Olympic crisis.