Consumer watchdog urges Olympic organizers to refund ticket money

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The Independent Online

Australia's consumer watchdog today urged Olympic organizers to offer refunds to thousands of people unhappy with their 2000 Games tickets.

Australia's consumer watchdog today urged Olympic organizers to offer refunds to thousands of people unhappy with their 2000 Games tickets.

The call was made as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said it would investigate whether Games organizers may have misled or deceived the Australian public over the Olympic ticket offer.

The ACCC inquiry came amid public outcry over the revelation that only a third of Olympic tickets were available to the general public, despite organizers' promises every Australian would have an "equal chance" of getting tickets.

On Monday, Olympic organizers said the Australian public stood almost no chance of getting tickets for some events at next year's Games because about 350,000 of the premium seats were held back from sale.

For some high demand sessions, public availability dropped to as low as two percent as the best tickets were allocated to private clubs and travel bureaus or to those with connections to the International Olympic Committee.

"There have been seemingly poor and deceptive marketing practices, quite possibly in breach of the Trade Practices Act," ACCC chairman Professor Fels said Tuesday.

"The public should have been kept fully informed at all stages of the true facts . . . truth in advertising comes ahead of the marketing requirements of any business including SOCOG."

The Commission had written to SOCOG - the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games - listing initiatives it believed the organizing committee should consider.

Among them was a recommendation that it should immediately give refunds to people who received only third-preference tickets "when preferences one and two were not real choices in the circumstances" and who felt they had been misled.

"A number of people would not have sent in their money had they known the true probabilities of getting a ticket and a number of people are now fairly locked in with tickets of low preference that they have paid for," Fels said.

The ACCC inquiry will investigate whether SOCOG contravened Trade Practices Act sections dealing with misleading and deceptive business.

While the ACCC had the power to issue fines of up to US$130,000, Fels said SOCOG's behavior was not fraudulent or criminal and it was seeking solutions, including refunds, rather than penalties.

The Olympics Minister Michael Knight said he welcomed the investigation.

"SOCOG has informed the ACCC that it will be cooperating fully with their inquiry and will expect to have a good result at the end of that," he said.

The ticketing controversy has angered Australian athletics legend Ron Clarke, who carried the torch into the Melbourne Cricket Ground to open the 1956 Olympic Games, the last time the Olympics were held in Australia.

Clarke said the ticket process was designed to get rid of undesirable tickets on the public while reserving the best events for the privileged.

"They said 'You are suckers, absolute suckers. We'll keep the best tickets for our mates and all you peasants think you're going to get the tickets you want but you aren't, you're only getting tickets for the events that aren't supported'," Clarke said.

"It just makes me so angry, it's such a cynical exercise. The Australian public deserve a lot more."