More than 150,000 coveted tickets for the London Olympics were sent overseas after foreign bidders hijacked the ballot set up for British sports fans.
Organisers of the 2012 Games admitted that EU trade rules meant they had no power to stop people living abroad from taking part in the lottery for tickets, a system which has already been heavily criticised for leaving large numbers of Britons without a ticket for any event. Many bidders even complained that they had missed out on tickets for handball matches, a little-loved sport in the UK which sold out this weekend.
Figures from the bidding process show applicants from other European countries had two bites of the cherry: first by applying for tickets designated for other countries to distribute, and then again by entering the ballot held in Britain. Around 95,000 EU residents applied for tickets, boosting the competition for seats and scooping around 5 per cent of those available to British bidders.
The latest breakdown of who got what has led to fresh criticism over the way tickets were sold. The London Organising Committee (Locog) has already been forced to defend itself against claims that it established a system which appeared to favour those wealthy enough to maximise their chances of success by bidding for large numbers of tickets. A process characterised as a "second-chance scramble" was mired in further problems when those trying to get hold of unsold leftovers for the least popular sports ran into a jammed website on Friday morning. Bidders are due to find out today whether they were successful in that second round.
Those who might have wanted to watch the 100 metres sprint final – a so-called blue riband event which is often the most exciting and talked about event of any Olympic Games – face another hurdle, however. Locog confirmed this weekend that because seating arrangements for press, VIPs and sporting officials has not been finalised, a tranche of tickets for the gold medal race has been held back. This could account for 8,000 tickets. Tickets for finals in swimming and track cycling were also held back from the ballot for the same reason.
The ticketing system permitting two chances for foreign applicants to get to events has been called "double dipping" and has provoked anger among MPs. Conservative MP Priti Patel told The Sunday Telegraph: "The system is a farce. British taxpayers and Londoners who have paid through their taxes to fund the Games will be alarmed and hugely disappointed to see they were not given priority." Labour MP Alison Seabeck added: "Some people will feel rightly aggrieved that they won't be able to share in this fantastic event."
A spokesman for Locog said: "We didn't market the tickets outside the UK but EU law means we can't restrict their sale within the EU based on where people live. Lots of Britons have been trying to buy tickets through agents in Europe, so it works both ways."