Bocog in struggle to fill empty stadiums

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 September, 2008, 12:00am

Paralympics fail to bring in the crowds

Beijing Paralympics organisers are scratching their heads over how to fill empty seats in many stadiums, especially now the city's students are back at school.

A source said officials were looking for channels to 'borrow' spectators to fill the stands, especially in venues other than the 'Bird's Nest' and 'Water Cube', which had become tourist attractions.

'Things get tougher with the start of the high school autumn semester and elementary schools have already started,' he said. 'Principals are reluctant to have their classes affected, particularly early in the semester.'

The Paralympics events have traditionally been troubled by a lack of interest. Previous Games failed to attract large numbers and children have dominated stadiums since the Games started on Sunday.

For first year Beijing Institute of Technology student Cui Weicheng , hosting the goalball events at his school meant more than the honour of being part of the Games - it was also a one-day break from 'tedious' military training.

'Our school arranged us to come,' he said. 'At least 85 per cent of the people are from our school.

'I am very glad that we were offered this opportunity, because I would rather sit here than do military training. I really want to come again tomorrow, but they will have another batch of students.'

Mostly clad in camouflage, Mr Cui and his classmates took up most of the seats, with roughly 30 per cent of the stadium remaining empty. When asked whether China would mobilise volunteers to fill seats, Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games general secretary Wang Wei said: 'The organisers of the Paralympics are doing what we can to make the look of the Games very positive and good to give encouragement for the Paralympians.'

He also said 20 per cent of the up to 2 million Paralympics tickets on offer would go to a special youth education programme to bring more youngsters to the Games.

But the proportion of non-paying ticket holders, including students and cheerleaders in yellow uniforms, appeared to exceed official claims. Some state-run enterprises were also asked to send staff to events.

The efforts have so far played well with Paralympians.

'It was so amazing to have so many spectators cheering for us,' said Ruta Cvirkiene of the Lithuanian women's wheelchair basketball team after her squad lost to the United States.

'Our girls were shocked to see so many people because we have no fans even in my own country. Several girls cried because the spectators cheered and applauded them. Everything here is so amazing.'

It has almost become routine for mainland sporting organisers to fill the stands with student military police. Event promoters usually make deals with schools and police chiefs to impress sponsors with a lively atmosphere for television.

Additional reporting by Martin Zhou