World Cup tickets being touted on the Web

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The Independent Online
Unauthorised dealers are selling huge blocks of World Cup tickets on the Internet, despite a ferocious row about the lack of tickets for English and Scottish fans. All the unauthorised tickets have been provided through black-market deals. An Independent investigation has provoked the French organisers into looking at the activities of a US-based agency.

The organisers of this summer's World Cup in France are investigating an unauthorised American ticket agency's claim that official tour operators are providing it with tickets to sell on the black market.

The move follows an investigation by The Independent into the availability of tickets for the tournament through unofficial sources. If the claim proves to be true, it would undermine not only the integrity of the agents involved, but also raise further questions about why so few tickets are available directly to fans of the teams involved.

Seventeen travel agents around the world are authorised by Fifa, football's world governing body, to sell 8 per cent of all tickets for the World Cup, which amounts to 200,000 individual tickets. However, several unauthorised companies are advertising tickets on the Internet. Some are advertising tickets for every game in the competition, including the final.

The French Organising Committee (CFO) says it will investigate an unauthorised American agency, 24/7 Ticket Service, based in Atlanta, which advertises worldwide on the Internet and which claims it is able to fulfil orders for World Cup tickets because it is supplied directly by official agents.

Selling on World Cup tickets for profit is illegal in France and the CFO says that it will take legal action against anyone offering tickets for sale without authorisation, including companies in America.

The Independent, having seen tickets being advertised by the 24/7 Ticket Service, posed as a buyer and requested tickets for various fixtures, including England's three opening group games, the quarter- and semi-finals and the final.

A 24/7 spokesman said there would be no problem and eventually agreed to provide 477 premium tickets, with a face value of approximately pounds 19,000, at a cost of pounds 244,000 (a profit of 1,184 per cent).

He also provided a written confirmation that claimed: "My sources are official tour operators as assigned by Fifa in North America and Europe. These are contacts that my company has used in the past with the previous World Cup and Olympics. The relationships are solid."

The agent said all tickets would be delivered by 1 June, as soon as the authorised agents had taken delivery from the CFO, which will issue them in May. Sixty per cent of seats have been allocated to French fans, 20 per cent to sponsors and authorised agencies for distribution in travel packages, and the remaining 20 per cent to Fifa to divide between the two sides playing each game and 200 national football federations.

For England's opening game against Tunisia, which will be played on 15 June in a 60,000-seat stadium in Marseilles, 36,000 tickets will be held by people who bought them in France, 12,000 by those who bought them from authorised agents or were supplied by sponsors, and 12,000 by Fifa.

England's allocation will come from this last 12,000, and will amount to 4,800, or 8 per cent of the total.

With England's official supporters club alone having 32,000 members, many of whom will want tickets, it is obvious there will be a shortfall in supply. This is already a major concern for the authorised travel agents in Britain.

The Independent spoke to two of the Fifa-authorised travel agencies based in England and asked them whether they knew of official agencies which dealt with American unofficial ticket agencies. John Hall, of Gullivers Sports Travel, said his company only sold tickets in Europe. "As part of the commitment with the CFO, we appoint agents in other European countries," he said. He added that his company, along with the other European-based agencies, will receive 150 tickets per European team for each game involving a European side, and that he and his appointed agents in Europe would sell them all within Europe as stipulated by the CFO.

Mike Burton, of Mike Burton Sports Travel, said that he was also dealing only within Europe with IATA-bonded travel agents appointed by him in 15 European countries. He said he was unaware of any agents selling on to unauthorised agents.

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