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Five days into the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore organizers are facing growing complaints from would-be spectators, saying they have been unable to buy tickets although competition venues were poorly filled.
In letters run by Thursday’s Straits Times newspaper, sports fans claimed they had been turned away by staff at stadiums because tickets “were sold out,” only to find that many seats remained empty.
The alarmed Singapore government quickly moved to address the issue.
“What we realize is that although all tickets are sold out, some people come late or leave early,” Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan said.
To solve the ticketing problem, venue managers had been instructed to resell tickets to walk-in fans if seats were still empty once a session had started, he said.
“It will have to be first-come, first-served basis, and it will have to depend very much on the physical situation on the ground,” the minister was quoted as saying.
“But if at all possible, there is a spare seat, we will make it available to you,” he said, adding this could mean two ticket holders for one seat.
Watching the boys’ football match between Singapore and Zimbabwe, one sports fan said she “was appalled to see a half-empty stand across from where I sat,” although seats were said to be sold out.
“The irony was that there were fans milling about outside the stadium unable to buy tickets,” she said in her letter to the Straits Times.
Another sports enthusiast said he joined a long queue of fans hoping to gain entry to the badminton competition, only to hear from staff that there were no more tickets available.
But after he got in using a spare ticket from a friend, he found that “to my dismay, spectators occupied only a fifth of the seats” with most of them being schoolchildren on an excursion, leaving the venue after two hours.
“The event was certainly far from being a sell-out, as the organizers had announced,” the spectator said.
Ticket sales had been sluggish in the build up to the Youth Olympics, which kicked off on Saturday and are set to run through August 26.
In May, the Ministry of Education came to the rescue, buying 80,000 of the 320,000 available tickets with a price tag of up to 30 Singapore dollars (22 US dollars) for students.
In recent polls many Singaporeans said they had little or no interest in the Youth Olympics, despite the government’s tireless efforts to create a buzz around the event.
Local internet forums critical of Singapore’s leadership said the Youth Olympics were “a farce,” pointing to ballooning costs and claiming there was evidence that students and national servicemen were recruited to attend the Games as spectators.
The Online Citizen website ran a letter it said the organizers sent to the parents of a student.
The letter told the parents that “your son has been specially selected to be part of the school delegation” to the Youth Games and asked them to give him “sufficient money for his break as refreshments were not provided.”
Minister Balakrishnan, however, was quick to respond to all critics who asked if Singaporeans were really enthusiastic about the Youth Olympics.