British firm sacked in World Cup ticket row

The game's governing body accepts demand for action over unsold seats while researchers highlight use of painkillers in sport
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The Independent Football

Fifa suffered a further humiliation yesterday when the World Cup's Korean organisers announced they were taking over the sale of most tickets from football's world governing body and the British company responsible for printing them.

Fifa suffered a further humiliation yesterday when the World Cup's Korean organisers announced they were taking over the sale of most tickets from football's world governing body and the British company responsible for printing them.

The South Korean organising committee (Kowoc) said it was switching 70 per cent of sales within Korea to Interpark, its agency, from Byrom, which is based in Manchester. "Considering the problems accumulated by the management of Byrom, we would like to initiate tickets sales through Interpark," Lin Byung Taik, the Kowoc spokesman, said.

A spokesman for Byrom said initially he had heard nothing of the plan. "I don't think it is feasible to do that," the spokesman said in Seoul. "It's more complicated than just simply saying, 'I want to take over the whole ticket operations now'."

But Fifa later confirmed it had agreed to the new arrangements. Since the tournament kicked off six days ago, the ticket problem has become a severe embarrassment to Fifa, Byrom and the organising committees of the co-hosts, Japan and South Korea. Television viewers around the world have noticed the large numbers of unsold seats at every match.

This week, telephone sales have begun in Japan and Korea, but this has only partly solved the problem. There are still no tickets available for England's game against Argentina in Sapporo tomorrow, although they are being offered by touts.

Average attendance at the first 14 matches was below 38,000, compared with 43,500 at the same point in the 1998 World Cup in France. Only three quarters of seats typically are being filled.

In part, this seems to be because of low demand. The distance and expense has deterred many fans: only 8,000 England supporters have reached Japan, compared with 25,000 for France 98, and they represent the biggest group of foreign fans.

But at most matches, visiting fans as well as locals have been scrabbling for spare tickets, paying large sums to ticket touts or standing forlornly outside the grounds.

Kowoc and Jawoc, its Japanese counterpart, blame Fifa and Byrom for late delivery of tickets and for not passing on the information that many had not been sold. Fifa and Byrom say many of the national football associations, which sell tickets to their supporters, were late in passing this information to them. Kowoc estimates it has lost more than £500,000 on unsold tickets at each match.

A spokesman for Fifa said the new arrangements would serve the best interests of the tournament. "This is not a humiliation," Andreas Herren said. "If we were stubborn and insisted on selling all these tickets ourselves, people would say that Fifa is arrogant. If we are pragmatic, they say that it is a humiliation."

Meanwhile, the tournament has been an unprecedented success on the internet. Fifa reported receiving 165 million hits on its website in the first four days of the tournament, compared with a total of 230 million in the two weeks of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

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