Half empty

The London Olympics called in the army to fill empty seats; Sochi is scrambling “volunteers”

February 10, 2014
February 10, 2014

Sochi Olympic athletes are whizzing down mountains, jumping off half pipes, and skating their way to gold medals, but where’s everyone else?

Although television ratings have been reasonably solid, attendance has been spotty in the opening days of Russia’s first Olympic games, with empty white seats gleaming at the edges of TV screens around the world. Women’s hockey has seen the smallest crowds, at times less than 50% of capacity. But even historically popular events, such as speed skating and mogul racing, have seen underwhelming turnouts.

The empty seats aren’t necessarily due to a lack of sales. Part of the problem is that ticket-holders haven’t shown up. Some 80% of ticket inventory (paywall) has been sold, according to Olympic organizers, but threats of terrorist attacks, logistical issues, and a seeming lack of interest has left certain spectacles pretty spectator-less. As many as 4,000 people didn’t make it to their seats over the first two days of competition.

Which is why the local Olympic committee is getting clever about how it fills those rows upon rows of seats. To prevent empty stands being caught on camera, they’re getting volunteers to fill them.” If we see there isn’t a turnout and there are seats available, yes, we invite some of the volunteers to join in,” said Alexandra Kosterina, a local Olympic committee spokeswoman, during a news conference.

While it isn’t the first time a host country has filled its seats creatively—London did so with soldiers back in 2012—it’s particularly embarrassing considering that Sochi is minuscule in size compared to past Olympic games. In London, for example, there were over 8 million tickets available. In Vancouver, there were about one million. In Sochi, there are only about 500,000.

While that’s bad news for the Russian Olympic Committee, photographers have been having some fun documenting the sorry situation.

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Sochi empty seats
Are the stands half full, or half empty?(Reuters/Lucas Jackson)
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Sochi empty seats
A sea of white.(Reuters/Stefano Rellandini)
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Sochi empty seats
Even speed skating, an event that normally sells out, has suffered. Here, empty seats are seen in the background as a skating fan dressed as Russia’s Father Winter waves the national flag before the start of the men’s 5,000-meter speed skating race.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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Sochi empty seats
Spectators have room to spread out at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center.(Reuters/Stefano Rellandini)
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Sochi empty seats
A woman sits among empty seats just ahead of the start of the women’s 3000-meter speed skating race.(Reuters/Issei Kato)

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