More than 40,000 VIP tickets for the World Cup have been returned to Fifa after the agency selling corporate packages failed to find buyers while thousands of fans struggle to secure normal tickets.
Swiss ticket agency ISE Hospitality signed a €170m (£116m) deal with the football tournament organisers to sell 345,000 VIP seats, each costing between €2,200 and €3,300. But ISE said that it had returned 43,000 tickets to Fifa after failing to find buyers. Sources also claim that a further 30,000 seats held by ISE remain unsold.
Sponsors are also encountering problems with their allotted 800,000 tickets, leading to fears that the expensive seats and boxes for the less attractive games could be left empty.
An ISE spokesman said: "Whether we will sell 280,000 or 300,000, we cannot say."
A spokesman for Fifa, whose president is Sepp Blatter, said: "We will offer the tickets to companies under our options programme before auctioning the rest on the free market."
ISE is not alone in still having unwanted tickets for the tournament that kicks off on 9 June. Corporate sponsors, allotted tickets as part of their sponsorship deals, have also started to return unwanted tickets for the best seats.
The problem has been particularly bad in Germany after officials warned that giving tickets to politicians would be construed a bribe. A spokesman for World Cup sponsor Vattenfall, a Swedish energy company, said: "The problem is not basic lack of interest, but legal difficulties."
Britta Bannenberg, a law professor at Bielefeld University in Germany, said companies could risk investigation for corruption if politicians or clients accepted tickets.
"It pretty swiftly becomes a crime," she said. "World Cup tickets are not just any old gift."
Magistrates have already started to investigate EnBW, a German power company which sent Christmas cards containing gifts of tickets and trips to 32 local and regional politicians.
Demand from fans for normal tickets is exceeding supply by 10 to one. But of the three million World Cup seats available for the 64 games, only one third are currently available on open sale.Reuse content