London 2012 is a once-in-a-lifetime event for all athletics fans. So why, asks Mark Perryman, have so few of us got tickets?
With less than 50 days to go, the Jubilee out of the way, and expectations of English success at a summer football tournament at an all-time low, get ready for the Olympic build-up to go into overdrive.
A ticket to watch the athletics events is undoubtedly one of the most prized. The furore at the scarcity of the tickets entirely predictable. These Games have been sold from the start as a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ but if being part of the Olympics isn’t at the core of their vision they might as well be anywhere but here, with none of the expense.
The ticketing campaign has consistently sold the lie that if you applied in good time the chances of getting a ticket were reasonable. Of course this was never going to be the case. First the demand, and expectations, were built up to levels it was impossible to satisfy. Secondly, as seasoned sports-watchers knew, a huge proportion of tickets would never go on public sale at all, reserved instead for sponsors, special guests and the media. The organisers with their typical, and rarely challenged, arrogance are refusing to release the ratio of tickets for the public per event until after the Games. However it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the sponsors will be there in force for the 100m final starring Usain Bolt while the public percentage share will be markedly higher for the opening rounds of the handball competition.
But we need their money, the organisers plead. This is selling the Games short, those sponsors need the global exposure the Olympics provide far more than those ticket allocations. And if they complain? Plenty of other companies will be queuing up to take their place.
Such a move would release tens of thousands more tickets for the public to purchase. A very welcome start but the actual programme could be transformed to provide an event truly ambitious in scale.
Running events should be the core of the Olympic programme. Why? Because this is the most basic, democratic, sport of all. The rules are simple, to cover an agreed distance in the shortest possible time. Any terrain will do, no specialist equipment required, it is a sport that can be done perfectly well naked and barefoot if the fancy takes you. And a rage of body types are equally capable of excelling. So why, for example, is there only the Marathon, one of the few Olympic events that is free-to-watch, why not add a half-marathon and a road relay? And however thrilling the 10,000 metres on the track, it is sill 25 circuits in front of the same crowd over and over again. Why not make that too a road race? And over 100 years on from the first of the modern era Marathons 26.8 miles isn’t the supreme challenge it once was, how about a 100k race for those who fancy something longer. Add trail running, perfect to base the start and finish on a racecourse, and orienteering and running would be an event that could attract immeasurably larger crowds, mainly unticketed, than London 2012’s chronic lack of ambition can cater for.
And the rest of the athletics programme? Why is it all squeezed into one stadium only in the second week of the Games? This is an old model no longer fit for public purpose. With some imagination London’s other principle stadiums; Wembley, Twickenham, the Emirates plus those in Glasgow, Cardiff and Manchester could have been reconfigured. Instead of every event competing for space around a track, the throwing events, the jumps, the multi-events could have filled a stadium, and a day of their own. The organising focus would shift from selling the really quite small number of tickets at really quite high prices, to truly enormous numbers of tickets at the lowest possible prices.
This is the ‘once in-a-lifetime’ opportunity that London 2012 has ducked. Does it matter? Yes, because a democratic model of sport should be about access and participation for all. A better Games is possible but only by challenging Locog and the IOC model that London has slavishly reproduced.
Mark Perryman is the author of Why The Olympics aren’t Good For Us, And How They Can Be, available at a 15% pre-publication discount from http://www.orbooks.com/catalog/olympics/