Have you noticed the large patches of empty seats at the London Olympics? So has Olympic organizer Locog and, after a rash of complaints, more tickets to the Games are now available to the public. Getting a hold of them, however, could be like playing a game of cat and mouse.
The problem, it seems, is this: Normal people who want tickets can't get them and those who have them through special arrangements aren't using them.
Rows of no-shows at the Games' first marquee events at the Aquatics Center, Wimbledon tennis complex and North Greenwich Arena, home of the gymnastics competition, prompted Olympic officials to call in soldiers and students to fill the empty spaces and stave off embarrassment.
But there was still a sea of vacant seats. Prime Minister David Cameron called the gloomy sight "disappointing," but added that it was not "a unique episode" with other Games facing similar problems.
Colin Moynihan, head of the British Olympic team, has even called for a "30-minute rule" whereby ticketholders who don't arrive in the first half hour of an event would lose their seats. Culture and Sport Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said organizers are looking into whether this is a viable option.
Locog (the London Organizing Committee) says the empty seats seen on television broadcasts are in the accredited "Olympic family" areas, reserved for groups including athletes, journalists, sponsors and sports federations. Spokesperson Jackie Brock-Doyle says seating in this area is down 15 percent from previous Games.
Consequently, thousands of tickets -- including 600 gymnastics seats -- were "put back into the pot" Sunday night on the London 2012 website.
"We talked to the international federations yesterday," Brock-Doyle said at a press conference Monday. "We were able to put back into the pot for sale around 3,000 tickets last night; they have all been sold."
Brock-Doyle said 100,000 to 150,000 more tickets returned by sports federations will be released on a day-to-day basis the night before events, but added the seating process was "not an exact science."
Some fans are finding that out the hard way. There is no list of available tickets online and no new kiosks will be set up to sell them. Interested parties must instead search events individually with no guarantee they will find any available seats.
About three-quarters of the roughly 9 million Olympic tickets this year belong to the British public, according to officials, but many fans complain that they've been shut out. So when the official website showed nearly every ticketed event as sold out on Sunday, dozens of fans posted pictures online of vacant rows. One angered Brit even created the popular twitter handle @OlympicSeat. Its tagline: "I feel nothing but emptiness."
British travel agency Thomas Cook is one of the few companies now selling direct tickets to high-profile Olympic events, albeit with a hefty price tag. The agency created a series of limited package deals Sunday that combine hotel accommodation with Olympic events. Options still available include tickets to the volleyball, hockey, boxing and soccer finals as well as the closing ceremony.
Even without tickets, however, there are still several events one can watch in London for free. The women's marathon on Aug. 5 and men's on Aug. 12 pass several of London's most famous landmarks, and tickets are not necessary apart from the start and finish line along the Mall. Similarly, the swimming marathon will take place in the Serpentine in Hyde Park on Aug. 9 and Aug. 10 and the south side of the lake will be open to spectators free of charge. Portions of the cycling leg of the triathlon, too, will take place in and around Hyde Park on Aug. 4 and Aug. 7 and do not require tickets.
If you still want to try your hand at some last minute tickets, visit http://www.tickets.london2012.com/