Olympic Outrage: Why So Many Empty Seats?

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Aaron Schachter: I am Aaron Schachter and this is The World. I tuned into the Olympic coverage over the weekend and there is one question that's been really bugging me. Why the heck are there so many empty seats? It happens every four years — swathes of empty seats at events, especially headliner events, the early stages like last night's swimming and gymnastics. Mihir Bose is covering the Olympics for The Evening Standard. He's also author of "The Spirit of the Game: How Sport Made the Modern World". Sir, what is going on? Why does this happen every 4 years?

Mihir Bose: Well, generally speaking, Olympics have been held in countries where the passion for sports is not that great, not at least for certain events, and therefore you get lots of empty seats at archery, or judo, or volleyball, not for the major headliner sports. This time, there've been empty seats at swimming and gymnastics and it has come against the background where London said the passion for sport in Britain is enormous. Whatever the sport, people will turn up. Yet, there are empty seats. The question is "why?" And the culprit has turned out to be not the sponsors, as some suspected, but the wonderful Olympic family.

Schachter: The Olympic family. What does that mean?

Bose: Well, this is composed of members of the International Olympic Committee — the people who own the Games and decide who will host the Games…which city will host the Games. They are also composed of the officials who head the 204 Olympic Committees around the world and the leaders of the International Sports Federation that determine how the individual sport will be run. They are all members of the Olympic family; they've got tickets and it seems many of them have just not turned up.

Schachter: How many members of the Olympic family?

Bose: We're talking of a few thousands here. And remember, these members of the Olympic family, to them sport is almost a business and politics. So, during the Games, they often have lots of meetings…a bidding war going on for the 2020 Olympics at the moment. So, in between all that, some of the members might just forget that they have a ticket for gymnastics, or swimming. It is difficult for them, you've got to sympathize a bit, you know.

Schachter: Mihir Bose, do I detect some jealousy?

Bose: [laughs] Not at all. I think the problem is this: What happens…the cities that host Olympic Games think that because they have spent a lot of money constructing the theater, as it were, where the play takes place, they feel that they actually own the Games. They don't own the Games. They are only leasing the Games for a period of, at best, 18 or 19 days.

Schachter: So basically, you are just saying we need to start making a story of this every 4 years, it is what it is.

Bose: Yeah, I'm afraid it is what it is. I think the IOC, being the sort of organization it is, is reluctant to change. It's not easy to change the IOC and members of the International Olympic Committee feel very strongly that this is their Games. They make all the right noises, you know — the Games are for the athletes and this sort of thing. It is good populace thinking, but in reality it doesn't quite work out that way.

Schachter: Mihir Bose is in London covering the Olympic Games for The Evening Standard; thank you sir.

Bose: Thank you.