Teachers, pupils and soldiers to fill empty seats


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The Independent Online

Teachers, schoolchildren and off-duty members of the armed forces will be brought in to fill empty seats at Olympic venues in response to widespread public anger at television pictures showing hundreds of the best seats at supposedly sold-out events left unoccupied.

The empty seats have antagonised not just members of the public, but team officials too. Yesterday the head of the British Olympic Association, Lord Moynihan, called for feasibility of a "30-minute rule" – whereby any seat not occupied within half an hour of a session starting would be made available to the public – to be urgently examined. "We need every seat filled," he said. "We owe it to the team, we owe it to British sports fans."

London 2012 has been dogged by ticketing controversy ever since the first tickets went on sale last year, with complaints about a range of issues: the balance between those allocated to the public and those allocated to sponsors and officialdom; the ticket prices; the Visa-only restriction on purchasers; and Locog's reluctance to be open about the whole process.

Yesterday there were empty seats near the finish line of the women's road race as Lizzie Armitstead claimed Britain's first medal of the Games. There were also vacant seats for the morning's swimming, featuring Rebecca Adlington in the heats of the women's 400m freestyle, and gymnastics. Large banks of empty seats in the Aquatics Centre, the Equestrian venue, Volleyball, Beach Volleyball and Gymnastics were visible on Saturday. Lord Coe said yesterday that many of the seats had been given to off duty soldiers brought in as last-minute replacements for G4S guards, but this does nothing to get the seats into the hands of the public.

Most of the empty seats shown on television screens are in accredited areas, which are reserved for governing body officials, members of National Olympic Committees, athletes and some journalists. It is very difficult for organisers to give these seats to fans, as they then cannot be reclaimed if officials arrive.Lord Coe told journalists yesterday morning that Olympic venues were "stuffed to the gunnels", a comment that was met with disbelief by Olympic ground pass-holders unable to fill rows of empty seats being broadcast on big screens in the park.