How Rio Olympics kids’ ticket donation program failed

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Empty seats have been as ubiquitous at the Rio Olympics venues as Brazilian flags and yellow soccer kits.

These have been the No-Show Games. Despite selling more than 3.3 million tickets as of Aug. 13, Rio Olympics organizers said that 11 percent of the general public that’s purchased tickets do not show up to events.

As we’ve chronicled before, Rio Olympic officials and the International Olympic Committee have served up any number of excuses for the empty seats, ranging from sponsors refusing to use them to Brazilian fans checking out after their teams and athletes are done to the arrests of ticket scalpers taking them out of circulation. (No word on how the arrest of elderly naked alleged ticket scalpers from Ireland factor into this.)

This includes tickets that were purchased directly at the Olympic Park. “Even if they bought their tickets outside the door here, 7 percent didn’t show up in the venue,” said Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada. That would seem to confirm a long-standing theory by the IOC that fans were buying tickets to simply enter the park, but not attending an event.

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There’s been one caveat the organizers have always offered about the empty seats: The Rio 2016 organizers have donated a massive amount of tickets to less-populated venues in a social program to “underprivileged children” in the area.

On Aug. 4, the organizers said they would be donating 240,000 tickets to the initiative. “We sold the most expensive tickets, so we can afford to give some away,” said Andrada, without irony.

The premise of the program was that the young fans and athletes would be exposed to a variety of sports at the Olympics. Andrada used the example of field hockey as a sort they may have tried at some point “but they never saw a real field hockey game.” And since the tickets were priced far out of reach for many families because of the economic recession in the country, this was a way for the children of Rio to enjoy the Rio Games.

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Of course, the ancillary benefit was that seats which would otherwise remain empty at those venues would be filled with enthusiastic youngsters. You get the aesthetics of a large crowd, and fans to help create an atmosphere, to boot.

One problem: The kids never showed up to watch the games.

Rio Olympics officials admitted Thursday that of the now-280,000 tickets that were distributed in the social program, 55 percent of them never showed up to an event.

The reason, according to Andrada? Terrible timing, apparently.

“The reason for this is that the kids were on holiday [from school],” Andrada said. “There wasn’t a central place like a school where the kids could find transportation. We left this to each family and, in some cases, to a [nonprofit].”

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Once more, with feeling: They left transportation to daytime sporting events to families that likely have both parents working, and to children who are on winter holiday.

Just a thought: The IOC and Rio 2016 have arranged bus transportation for everyone from volunteers to media to VIPs. They couldn’t send a bus to wrangle up the “underprivileged children” at some centralized location and get them to, like, a field hockey match?

But then again, this is the kind of foresight that would have prevented over half the tickets they distributed going unused.

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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