The Sports Journalists’ Association has asked for an urgent meeting with the London Olympic organisers to discuss proposals discussed last week to reduce the number of media seats available at some sessions during the 2012 Games and make them available for sale to the public.
The proposal, presented to senior officials from the International Olympic Committee during the past week’s co-ordination commission visit to London, would probably be applied during morning qualifying sessions and particularly affect high-demand sports athletics, swimming and track cycling.
According to IOC director Gilbert Felli, this would avoid there being swathes of empty seats at some sessions. “We have been working on this because there has been criticism of the accredited seating for media or Olympic family members,” Felli said. “In the media, for instance, we know in some preliminary events people are not coming, so we are going to be able to sell those tickets to spectators and then re-open in the evening.”
Felli said that that the concept was used at the Vancouver Winter Olympics earlier this year. The matter has been discussed within the IOC Press Commission and London’s media advisory group.
Paul Deighton, LOCOG’s chief executive, said he plans a “Wimbledon-style system” to make sure unused tickets go back into circulation. “Here we’ve got the premier sporting event and people wanting to go and see it. It is clearly unacceptable to have tranches of empty seats,” he said.
The SJA is concerned that the empty seating seen in television pictures around the world during the Athens and Beijing Games that created anger and controversy, especially among those members of the public unable to buy Olympic tickets for these “sold-out” events, were more often in areas allocated to the “Olympic family” – seats for the IOC’s sponsors and their guests, the Olympic version of the “prawn sandwich brigade”.
“Just because a press seat looks to be ‘unoccupied’ at any point during a session, it does not mean that the journalist who has been allocated that place is not in the stadium working. No journalist particularly enjoys spending three hours of a morning session in the Mixed Zone, for instance, but they will still need to return to a seat in the tribune to work, and they will often be there long after the sports session has finished and the TV cameras have been switched off,” Steven Downes, the SJA Secretary, said.
“Reallocating media seats is a ‘soft’ option for the organisers. We would be very reluctant to let media seats go, in case someone decides we don’t get them back for whatever reason.”
The idea of an ever-changing press box also raises issues of how, and who, would manage such a system, especially at swimming and cycling, where in London the demand for media seating is expected to exceed allocation in all sessions. The difference in scale between media demand at a Winter Games in Vancouver and a Summer Olympics in London is another concern.
“The work pattern of many newspapermen will be significantly different to Beijing or Sydney because of the timezone differences,” Downes said, “and the expectation of many outlets to provide ever more coverage on their websites is likely to see reporters filing live even during morning sessions.”
Deighton has also confirmed that the Premier League season will start later in 2012 to avoid a clash of dates with the Games, though with Wembley in Olympic mode until the final weekend of the Games, which end on August 12, it could see the Community Shield opener moved to a midweek date and another stadium.
Jacques Rogge, the IOC President, had swept into town earlier in the week to have meetings at No10 Downing Street with the new Prime Minister, David Cameron, and to visit the Olympic Park at Stratford for himself. The visit to the stadium saw Rogge seat No 2012. “I did the same as chairman of the co-ordination commission of Athens,” Rogge said. “The only difference was in my case it was three weeks before the Opening Ceremony.
“It shows London is well advanced and it shows that their obligation will be well delivered,” he said.
Reporting by Philip Barker
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