London Olympics organizers have given British troops, teachers and schoolchildren from poor neighborhoods free tickets Sunday to fill vacant rows, a sight that has been causing controversy.
The London organizing committee (LOCOG) was forced to launch an investigation after blocks of empty seats in prime positions at supposedly "sold out" events led to public outrage.
The events included the swimming, tennis and gymnastics, and showed up on TV coverage of the first weekend of Olympic competition as slabs of empty space.
Organizing chief Sebastian Coe said Sunday that going forward, seats left unused — mainly by the "Olympic family" of sponsors and sports officials for whom they were reserved — would "not be an issue" going forward.
"It is obvious, some of those seats are not being used in the early rounds," he said, the Associated Press reported.
While earlier promising to "name and shame" Olympic sponsors if they did not use their allocations, he did not directly blame them.
Meanwhile, the UK minister responsible for the Olympics, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, said that the organizing committee was “doing a full investigation into what happened," according to the Washington Post.
"We think it was accredited seats that belong to sponsors, but if they are not going to turn up, we want those tickets to be available for members of the public, because that creates the best atmosphere."
However, sponsors Coca-Cola and Visa have defended their use of allotted tickets — which was 8 percent of the 8.8 million available tickets.
The companies said they gave most of their allocated seats to prize winners in promotional offers, while the rest went to "long-standing partners, employees, and customers."
"We believe that usage levels of our tickets have been extremely high so far," Coca-Cola said, the AP reported.
Visa said it made "great efforts to ensure that our ticket allocations are fully used."
Meanwhile, 50 or so soldiers took seats at the North Greenwich Arena on Sunday morning during down time from security duties, the Guardian reported.
Some of the troops even said that they were scheduled to start shifts but instead were offered courtside seats for the USA v France match at the basketball arena.
"We're seat fillers," one of them told the Guardian. "They asked who likes basketball and we put our hands up."
The game, featuring Kobe Bryant, was nearly a sellout, but there were around 40 empty seats in the arena reserved for Olympic and sporting officials, the paper reported.
Students and teachers from east London neighborhoods also would get late calls for free tickets, having already been accredited in a planned reallocation program.
Coe also said that some ticket holders would be offered upgrades to better seats, Coe said.
London Olympics: Fans demand explanation for empty seats