Internet threat to Wimbledon ticket controls

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Wimbledon is investigating attempts by American ticket agencies to get around the All England Club's strict rules on the re-sale of tickets for this summer's championships by selling seats on the Internet.

One company, based in Arizona, is selling tickets for the opening Monday of the championships, with a face value of pounds 22, for pounds 372. Tickets for the first Saturday, priced at pounds 32, are being offered for pounds 559 and tickets for the men's final, with a face value of pounds 54, are being sold for nearly pounds 900 each.

Since 1989, the Wimbledon authorities have forbidden the re-sale of all tickets except debenture seats, allocated to those who have invested in five-year bonds that have helped fund the All England Club's development programme.

This has led to a thriving re-sale market in debenture seats, with many holders legitimately making huge profits, but the tickets being offered by the American agencies are non-debenture tickets and the Wimbledon authorities are making enquiries to discover the source of the tickets and stop the trade in them.

"These organisations are being investigated to see what, if any, action can be taken," a Wimbledon spokesman said. He added that anyone arriving at the tournament with tickets not bought directly through official sources - either via the official ballot, through tennis clubs or by queuing on the day - would be refused admission if discovered. Last year, regular random checks on one day found a party of 40 people with such tickets, and they were turned away and had their tickets confiscated.

The Arizona-based agency carries a message on its web-site which reads: "The price of non-debenture seating makes a trip to Wimbledon affordable. However we cannot guarantee that Wimbledon officials will not question the origin of your tickets." Although the agency also states that non- debenture tickets will not be sold to British residents, it is continuing to advertise and sell tickets via electronic credit-card transactions.

In order to prevent the re-sale of non-debenture tickets in Britain, the Wimbledon authorities have taken out adverts in national newspapers which warn potential buyers against purchasing non-debenture tickets.

A Wimbledon spokesman said that any agency or person found breaching the rules may be liable to legal action and would be stopped from buying Wimbledon tickets in the future. He added that agencies using the Internet presented more of a problem, however. "The Club do all they can to stop such sales," he said. "The problem is that the Internet is not regulated and therefore all regulation falls to Wimbledon."

The spokesman said that court orders from Britain, which might be used to stop the trade, were not valid in Arizona. He added that the All England Club was seeking other means of preventing the trade. "The matter is in the hands of our solicitors," he said.

Another ticket agency, based in San Francisco, said that it was able to provide non-debenture seats for all areas of centre court for all the days of the tournament, and that there was no shortage of tickets. "A dozen or more on any day will be no problem," a spokesman said. He added: "These tickets come from Wimbledon members and from people who've got them from tennis clubs and the like."

A third agency, based in Alabama, is offering discounts on the bulk purchase of non-debenture tickets. A salesman said: "I can get you 50 each day if you need them." He added: "If you buy a lot, I can get you a discount on them."

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