Half a million tickets for the Olympic football tournament are being withdrawn from sale after take-up for the event failed to live up to expectations. Just a week before Britain's women's team kick off the Games in the Millennium Stadium, the organisers have admitted there will be swathes of empty seats at many matches outside London, with Cardiff and Glasgow proving particularly hard to sell.
Yesterday's surprise announcement came a day after Ryan Giggs, captain of the men's team, had enthused about being part of the Games - "the biggest sporting event in the world" - and expressed his hope that supporters would come out to support the team.
Britain's matches have sold well, but many other games are struggling to attract fans to six venues around the country.
With a million football tickets left unsold, Locog, the London organising committee, took the decision to halve the number remaining and close off parts of the stadiums. In Cardiff, the 74,500-capacity Millennium Stadium is expected to have its top tier closed for most matches apart from when Britain's men play Uruguay. Locog still faces a race against time to sell the 450,000 that remain available - around 200,000 of those are returns from National Olympic Committees.
Locog insists it is "delighted" with sales for the football competition, saying that with 1.6 million already sold that is more than at Euro 2012. They also point out sales of women's matches far outweighs anything previously seen in this country. For Hope Powell's side's first game in Cardiff against New Zealand on Wednesday - two days before the opening ceremony - 37,000 fans are expected. The women's English cup final at the Emirates drew around 5,000 this season.
Sales in Glasgow, which will host eight games at Hampden Park, are believed to have been particularly sluggish, with around 80,000 of the 250,000 originally put on sale gone. Spain against Japan is the pick of the games in Glasgow - Egypt against Belarus is somewhat less attractive. Adult tickets for matches cost between £20 and £40.
It is in Glasgow that the greatest number of tickets - some 50,000 - has been distributed free to schools and youth groups through the Ticketshare scheme. In all, 200,000 tickets across all Olympic sports have been given out in this manner. Ticketshare is funded via sales of hospitality tickets and packages for the Games - so allowing organisers to give them out for free.
There are also matches in Coventry, Manchester and Newcastle as well as at Wembley, which is sold out for all British group games plus the knock-out stages. The presence of some low-profile teams, like Belarus, Gabon and Honduras, has not helped.
Sebastian Coe, chairman of Locog, defended the numbers of tickets sold, suggesting they compared favourably to previous Games. He said: "We've sold more football tickets than anything else. We are not in bad shape on tickets but football tickets at a Games are always the challenge."
A spokesperson for Locog said: "We are planning to reduce capacity across the venues by up to 500,000 tickets across the tournament. This will involve possibly not using a tier, or an area of a ground, in some venues."
Ticket sales is an issue that has dogged organisers, through both high and low demand. Aside from football, sales are impressive, although 50,000 non-football tickets - including athletics, hockey, beach volleyball and high-end seats for the ceremonies -; are still available and a further 200,000 will be put up for general sale in the next 10 days as returns come in from around the world.
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