Early in every Olympics, concern starts to mount about empty seats as the glow of the Opening Ceremony wears off and the reality of dozens of athletic competitions with thousands of available seats sets in. Already there is concern at the International Olympic Committee about the number of empty seats and the less-than-raucous atmosphere around many events.
"We feared that a little bit," said Gerhard Heiberg of Norway, part of the IOC's marketing arm, according to the AP. "We were warned about this. The TV pictures are wonderful, the competitions are wonderful, the venues are great. But I feel a bit the lack of enthusiasm and the joy of sports."
Nowhere was this more evident than in the speedskating events, where Dutch fans tend to show up to support their skaters in loud, raucous numbers. When the Netherlands swept the podium in the 5,000m event, columnist Bruce Arthur wrote that "there were perhaps 150 men and women in their Holland-orange hats and jackets and shirts and scarves, cheering in the 8,000-seat Adler Arena skating centre. They might have been outnumbered by empty orange seats."
This is not a new problem; in London two years ago, for instance, volunteers and off-duty soldiers helped fill out less-than-capacity arenas. A similar fix might be in order for Sochi's organizers, Heiberg suggests: "They have to see to it they fill the stadiums. I understand that all tickets have been sold and people who want to buy tickets they cannot buy tickets, so they should do something about this to get school children, or students or even military people without uniforms out watching."
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The "all tickets have been sold" line is a curious one, since it would seem that people who have purchased tickets to an event would want to actually attend the event. And as recently as late January, hundreds of thousands of the 1.1 million available tickets reportedly remained unsold.
As for atmosphere, some of that could be chalked up to Russian audiences. "Here, people are more reserved," Anita DeFrantz, an IOC member from the United States, told the AP. "There's not a lot of rah-rah, except for the Russian athletes who get a great reception. I think as time goes on and they get used to it, there will be more excitement. A lot of people have not seen these sports before."
There's plenty of time left in the Sochi Games, yes, and many events, such as figure skating, are at capacity. Still, Russia is doing all it can to clear away negative imagery from the first days, and having some full, enthusiastic houses will go a long way toward helping that.
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