August 12, 2008
As I watched the beach volleyball game last night I noticed that there were a group of fans dressed in yellow t-shirts that filled up the lower section of the stadium. Each person was armed with a pair of thudersticks and seemingly made noise after every point in the match. As Peter Foster of the Telegraph points out though, these "fans" were actually volunteers who have been brought in by the Beijing Olympic Committee to make the stands look more crowded.
After telling the public that every ticket had been sold for these Olympics, officials are now admitting that fans are not coming out to the events in the numbers that were expected.
"We are concerned about the fact we do not have full stadia," said Wang Wei, vice president of Bocog, "We think it is due to the weather, the humidity and then the rain, and on the first couple of days there were not many spectators who showed up"
Enter the yellow-clad seat fillers.
"If local venue managers find there are not enough people in the venue or too many empty seats they arrange for local volunteers as cheerleaders," said Mr Wang. "They are told to cheer for both teams to create a better atmosphere. If the ticket-holders turn up then they get up and go."
Isn't this the same strategy that Hollywood employs during an awards show?
When I see this group of volunteers sitting at various matches, I feel like I am looking at a bunch of teenagers who are on a field trip at summer camp. The Chinese are undoubtedly going to take a bit of a PR hit because of this story, especially after proclaiming the Games a "complete sellout," but I think they deserve at least some credit for attempting to infuse energy into otherwise marginally full venues.
You've got to remember that most of these matches, especially those with Americans, are taking place early in the morning in China, to accommodate American television viewers. I'm sure the athletes appreciate the support from the crowd ... no matter where they came from.
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