Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of a sponsor of the London Olympic Games. The company is Procter & Gamble, not Proctor & Gamble. This version has been corrected.
London Mayor Boris Johnson, two-time Olympic rowing champion James Cracknell and thousands of others in this city have one thing in common: They so far haven’t been able to get tickets to the 2012 Summer Games.
As Britain prepares to host its third Olympics, many citizens here are up in arms over a ticket distribution system that they say is unfair.
Organizers insist the system ensures that most tickets are sold to the public, and that frustrations surrounding government spending cuts are helping fuel the national debate over the $14 billion Games.
“So many people want to come that we simply can’t satisfy demand,” Hugh Robertson, Britain’s minister for sport and the Olympics, said at a briefing this week.
Even Johnson and Cracknell, who had to apply for the events just like everyone else, have been unable to secure tickets.
During the 2008 Games in Beijing, seas of seats were empty in some venues and “cheer squads” were employed to fill space, leaving some to speculate that tickets reserved for corporate sponsors weren’t being used. The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games vowed that would not be the case in 2012.
The first round of sales began March 15. During a six-week period, people who wanted tickets could submit an application online or by mail for a maximum of 20 events. Oversubscribed sessions, such as the men’s 100 meters, were distributed through a lottery. The committee advised buyers to request tickets to as many events as possible for the best chance of success.
However, 1.2 million people who wanted tickets did not receive any — nearly two-thirds of the 1.9 million who applied.
“I am quite upset that I didn’t get tickets as, apart from being a huge athletics fan, I live in Newham and can walk to the stadium from my house,” said 38-year-old Sarah Tully, who lives in the borough where the Olympic venue was built and unsuccessfully applied for 15 tickets. “Newham is one of the poorest boroughs in the country, and to not have a system whereby local people can benefit from easier access to tickets seems unfair.”
Tully and other unsuccessful first-round applicants were able to reapply during second chance sales on June 24, when 2.3 million more tickets became available online on a first come, first served basis. About 130,000 people got tickets then, of a reported 150,000 applications processed.
“We know there is still some disappointment from those who were not successful in their requests, but we will continue to do everything we can to get them to the Games,” the committee’s chairman, Sebastian Coe, said in a statement.
Another 1.3 million tickets will be released during the coming year.
One quarter of them will go to National Olympic Committees, sponsors, stakeholders and hospitality and other groups.
Sponsor Procter & Gamble, for example, received about 6,000 tickets but will use only 10 percent of them, a company representative said. About 5,500 tickets will be distributed through in-store promotions, competitions and giveaways, she said.
Prestige Ticketing, the official hospitality service for London 2012, as next year’s Summer Games are known, is selling once-in-a-lifetime packages that include top-category tickets, fine dining and entertainment within the Olympic and Paralympic venues. But such high-end services account for just 1 percent of all ticket sales, according to Prestige Ticketing.
Stephen Hunt, 42, a bankruptcy specialist, was one of the lucky few who landed tickets in the first round. Weeks after applying for nearly $60,000 worth of tickets, he learned that he had secured tickets to the opening ceremony and five events, including the gymnastics finals — far more than he had anticipated.
Hunt said he bid high with the expectation that the ballot would be massively oversubscribed. “My purpose was to get at least one,” he said. “I didn’t want to wake up and say, ‘I wish I had bid a little bit more.’ I was determined not to be in that class.”