Football: Japanese fans sold phantom tickets

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN 20,000 Japanese football fans are likely to find out within the next few days that they have bought "phantom" World Cup tickets that do not exist.

Over 12,000 of the fans affected - who bought travel packages and the promise of tickets from travel agents across Japan - are already in France or are planning to travel to Toulouse for their side's opening group game against Argentina on Sunday, the Japan Association of Travel Agents announced at an emergency meeting in Tokyo yesterday.

The problem is believed to have been caused by travel agents sourcing tickets through non-official suppliers who have then failed to deliver. As well as affecting numerous agents in Japan, the Independent has learned that at least four Japanese travel agents based in London have also been affected. One source estimates that up to 2,000 tickets purchased from these London agents - mainly by Japanese businessmen living in Britain - have not been delivered.

"There has been one massive cock-up," said one agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Agents around the world have been buying promises of tickets on the black market, and when that happens you're in trouble."

He added that most of the affected companies, both in London and Japan, were reluctant to admit that they could not fulfil their orders, and that most of them were still attempting to find alternative sources of tickets. "I should imagine everything is going on behind closed doors," he said. "People are still trying feverishly to get tickets."

The full extent of the problem will not be known for several days, although it is understood that two of the largest Japanese agents are thought to have 15,000 undelivered ticket orders between them alone. Supporters with "phantom" tickets from other countries have also started to emerge.

A group of 1,100 Brazilians discovered yesterday that the tickets they had bought for their side's opening World Cup match against Scotland in Paris did not exist, French police said. A spokesman said that a first group of around 100 Brazilians had pre-paid for the tickets, only to be told when they arrived in Paris that the tickets were not available.

A Spanish travel agency responsible for buying the tickets said that it had been duped by an American firm that had taken its money and then failed to deliver the tickets.

"I'm sure we've been conned," said a spokesman for the Spanish company. The spokesman promised to refund the $400 (pounds 250) paid by each of the Brazilians, although this was likely to be little comfort to the 1,100 who had travelled from South America to France to watch their team play.

These are not the first cases of phantom tickets. Last week a London tickets agency, Great Portland Entertainments Ltd, was closed down after a raid by the local trading standards office and the Department of Trade and Industry. The company was reported to have taken in excess of pounds 2.4m for World Cup tickets from around 40,000 fans, but had not delivered the vast majority of the tickets. Earlier this week, a Glasgow-based agent, Kelvin Travel, admitted that it had been let down by a non-official supplier and was unable to provide tickets for 640 customers.

As the World Cup progresses, it is expected that more cases will emerge, both in Britain and abroad. Demand for tickets has consistently outstripped demand in many of the participating countries. Proof of the clamour for tickets could be found in Paris yesterday, where touts were asking for pounds 1,500 for seats (with a face values between pounds 15-pounds 40) for the Brazil versus Scotland game.