London watchdog slams secrecy around Oly ticketing

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By DANICA KIRKA, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — A London city watchdog has slammed the committee organizing the 2012 Olympics for its ticket policy, arguing that the secrecy surrounding the allocation of Olympic tickets has undermined public confidence.

The 25-member London Assembly, which acts as a check on London Mayor Boris Johnson, challenged Olympic organizers on Thursday to give more information on its ticket allocations in a report labeled "Sold Out?" The London Olympic organizing committee — called LOCOG — is a private entity, and the assembly complained that means it is exempt from Freedom of Information laws which could be used to force a handover of the data.

"It is completely unacceptable that an organization that only exists because of a huge investment of public money can hide behind its status as a private company to avoid questions it does not like," said Dee Doocey, head the committee that wrote the report. "For most people, the games will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it's vital they have confidence in the ticketing process, particularly those who have missed out on tickets."

London Olympic organizers said they would respond to the assembly's request when ticket sales are done.

London's Olympic ticketing process has been dogged by repeated computer problems and huge demand. Organizers set up a complicated lottery system in which people blindly registered for tickets and handed over their credit card details to pay for them before they knew what — if any — tickets they were getting.

A majority of ticket seekers failed to get any in the first-round sale that ended in April — with 22 million requests coming in for the 6.6 million tickets available in prices that ranged from 20.12 pounds ($31.60) to 2,012 pounds ($3,159). Further rounds were blighted by computer problems, and plans for future ticket sales have failed to stem public grumbling.

As the July 27-Aug. 12 Summer Games draw near, the ticket allocations for sponsors are likely to come under even greater scrutiny for they give the impression that the wealthy and connected get special treatment.

But more is at stake than dashed expectations. Britain faces tough economic times, and British taxpayers are putting up 9.3 billion pounds ($14.6 billion) for games that most will be unable to attend. Critics have charged that millions are being spent to build stadiums and provide security for the event — only for the public to be shortchanged.

"LOCOG is putting public confidence at risk by refusing to provide a complete breakdown of how many tickets were available for each event," Doocey said in a statement.

The report was particularly critical of the committee's failure to provide a detailed breakdown of how many tickets have been sold for each event — and for what price. It objected to what it called organizers' failure to say whether the cheaper tickets were spread equally across all events.

Interest in some events, such as soccer, has been muted and supply exceeds demand. Soccer's main tournament is the World Cup, and many of the top stars in the game are not eligible for the Olympics because of age restrictions — most contenders must be under 23.

"We always knew that ticket allocation would be difficult and would disappoint some people," Doocey said in a statement. "But if LOCOG had been open and transparent right from the start, a lot of public suspicion and anger could have been avoided."

Olympic authorities said in a statement they would comply with the assembly's requests — but that would have to wait until the entire sale process is complete.

"We are committed to providing a full breakdown of ticket sales, and believe the best time to do this is once we have completed the final sales process — we still have over 3 million Olympic and Paralympic tickets to sell and our priority is to get those into the hands of sports fans," organizers said.

"We are firmly committed to providing 75 percent of the total number of Olympic tickets to the British public, and if we can deliver more than this, we will," they added.

The Paralympics run from Aug. 29 to Sept 9.

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