Olympic Ticket Sales Revert To Lottery After a False Start

By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

BEIJING, Nov. 5 -- Organizers of the 2008 Olympic Games said Monday that they would offer tickets through an old-fashioned lottery system, a week after an attempt involving more advanced means resulted in chaos.

A first-come, first-served system, in which people could reserve online, by telephone or by lining up at certain branches of the Bank of China, left customers frustrated and local officials embarrassed last Tuesday. High demand caused the central computer system to crash and phone lines were jammed. At bank branches, long lines formed as early as 2:30 a.m.

Officials changed course Monday, saying that they would accept applications for tickets Dec. 10-30 and allocate the tickets later in a one-time random drawing.

The Beijing Games will be held Aug. 8-24. Chinese are proud of their moment in the sun, and officials are eager to show off a modern country capable of staging an international event.

The attempt to sell tickets online Tuesday, however, met with disappointment when, in the first hour of ticketing, 8 million page views on the Olympics site crashed the system. Officials said it was designed to handle 1 million hits an hour. At the same time, the ticketing hotline received 3.8 million calls, overwhelming the network. Congestion and data delays also slowed sales at the bank branches.

Anna Miao, 31, who works at an investment bank in Beijing, said she arrived at work early Tuesday to make sure she had time to log on for tickets to her favorite sport, badminton doubles.

"I could only log on to the Web site, but then I couldn't choose my sport. When I tried again, I was told, 'The system is busy,' " said Miao, adding that she continued to try throughout the afternoon. "I thought they would fix their ticketing system after the October 30 disaster. I didn't expect that they would have a lottery draw sales system again."

Guan Xiaomeng, 24, an editor at a Chinese magazine, said he spent 10 minutes trying to log on to the Olympics site. He eventually reached a page that allowed him to choose a method of payment, then the word "failed" popped onto his screen.

"I blamed myself for not having a quick enough hand," he said. "Of course I was not the only one to be blamed. The ticketing system wasn't ready for so many visitors."

On Tuesday, after suspending sales, the Beijing Olympics Committee issued an apology to the public, saying, "We will humbly accept the criticism, conscientiously sum up the lessons to improve our work."

It had hoped to sell 1.85 million tickets last week, but sold only 43,000, most of them online.

Seven million tickets are available for the Olympic Games, with about three-quarters reserved for domestic sales. The first batch of 1.6 million tickets was allocated by lottery in April.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company