Sochi organisers: tight security to blame for empty seats
Organisers say most tickets sold, but people not turning up on time is creating queues for entry
The organisers of the Winter Olympics said on Sunday they had sold 92 per cent of the tickets available for the first day of main competition but admitted thousands had not made it on time due to tight security.
The first day of medal competition on Saturday saw reasonable crowds but some banks of empty seats could still be seen for most disciplines. However, the spokeswoman for the organising committee, Alexandra Kosterina, said 92 per cent of the available tickets for Saturday had been sold and "we are happy with that".
She added: "We saw pretty full stadiums. We had a good turnout and hope it will get even better as the Olympics go on."
She confirmed that thousands of spectators had not made it to events on time, or at all, due to tough security controls that created long queues.
"People need to understand what time to travel and you need to come in advance," she said.
She admitted that "we had some problems due to the Russian mentality of arriving as close as possible to the start of an event and never in advance." Asked what the real attendance was on Saturday, taking into account those who had bought tickets but did not show up, she gave a figure of 81 per cent. Around 40,000 people had bought tickets for Saturday's events, she added.
The Sochi Winter Games, a project championed by President Vladimir Putin, are under unprecedented scrutiny after a litany of concerns about Russia's suitability as a host.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) spokesman Mark Adams praised the start to the Games. "There was great action and great venues. The athletes are at the centre, as it should be."
Meanwhile, political turmoil in Ukraine has been undermining former Olympic champion Sergei Bubka's efforts to promote a bid by its western city of Lviv to host the 2022 Winter Games.
Bubka, now president of Ukraine's Olympic Committee, said he was confident that his country could swiftly resolve the divisions that were tearing it apart.
"It's eight years before the 2022 Games will start, this will give a lot of time and opportunity to settle all the issues," the former pole vaulter said in Sochi. "I'm confident that through the Games, through sport, it will make our nation stronger."
However, time is not on the side of Lviv, a city that lies close to the border with Poland and was one of the venues for the Euro 2012 soccer tournament.
The IOC will draw up a shortlist of candidates for 2022 in the next few months and the unrest makes it hard to see how Lviv will make the grade.
At least six people have died during weeks of political violence in the country.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters