Fears over bribery law will leave best seats in the stadium unsold

  • @tompeck

Thousands of the very best Olympics tickets and corporate hospitality packages remain unsold because com- panies are worried that lavishing so much money on clients will cause them to fall foul of the Bribery Act.

The Act took effect in July 2011 and allows "reasonable and proportionate hospitality". However, the best Olympics packages, which include a champagne reception, fine dining and a top seat to the 100m final, cost £6,500.

Alan Gilpin, chief operating officer of Prestige Ticketing, which has a purpose-built hospitality pavilion within the Olympic Park, said the Act had been "a thorn in our side for the last year".

He told Reuters: "Everyone would liked to have sold more. Is the Bribery Act a contributory factor? Probably yes." Prestige has 88,000 tickets for the Games, around 1 per cent of the total number, and is offering hospitality packages for a range of sports including the tennis at Wimbledon, as well as swimming and basketball. So far it has sold 70 per cent of them.

Olympic organisers have said arrangements are in place to sell on any spare tickets at box offices on the Olympic Park, so there may yet be a few very lucky spectators. At previous events, such as the Rugby World Cup, Mr Gilpin said sales have increased as the event has drawn closer, but demand for London 2012 tickets from the public has been higher than for any sporting event ever before, so the slow uptake for corporate seats is surprising.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said in guidelines to the Bribery Act last year: "No one wants to stop firms getting to know their clients by taking them to events like Wimbledon or the Grand Prix."

Tim Jones, a partner at the London law firm Freshfields Bruchkaus Deringer, who is providing legal advice to London 2012, said: "People have come to us to say can we invite guests? The answer is yes." But he said guidelines would have to be in place, particularly where hospitality packages might include hotel stays and tickets for friends and family of the client. Fifty-one companies are sponsoring the Olympics, including the International Olympic Committee's top sponsors such as McDonald's and Dow, and a further 40 sponsoring solely the London Games, including BT and Proctor and Gamble.

All are given ticket allocations in return, but many have been wary of taking them up, in response to the ticket ballot that left so many people empty-handed and spawned accusations of unfairness. Proctor and Gamble have put their entire allocation into a "nearest and dearest" programme, designed to ensure that tickets are available for friends and family of competing Team GB athletes.