Brazil has had a difficult time selling tickets to Olympic events for months, as media coverage of Rio de Janeiro’s violent crime problem and the Zika epidemic dissuaded tourists from visiting. As the first week of the games continues, reports surfacing that those who did buy tickets may have been given tickets to Olympic seats that simply do not exist.
The Brazilian magazine Veja reports that multiple spectators were shocked to find that the seat numbers on their tickets were non-existent seats upon entering numerous arenas. “Fans who bought tickets for basketball and swimming competitions have struggled to find their seats in the stadium,” the magazine reports. Veja confirmed with an Olympics volunteer that incidents in which the seat number on an Olympic ticket did not correspond to any seat in the stadium had, in fact, occurred.
Veja claims 350 tickets sold did not correspond to an existing seat.
At both the swimming and basketball venues, the magazine claims that those with tickets to non-existent seats were simply moved to other seats that were not sold. Some of these were in positions that made it extremely difficult to follow the action, however, like behind large pillars that obstructed the view below. One spectator gave the magazine his name, Marcelo Lobato, and said he was “very disappointed” that he “spent 160 reais [about $51]” for a seat in which he could not see any swimming races.
As of early this week, Rio Olympics staff confirmed that there are an estimated 1.1 million tickets still unsold for the games. The astronomical number of tickets remaining unsold has created lackluster optics for the Olympics on television, where viewers can clearly see large stadiums mostly empty during pivotal sports contests.
On the first day of the Olympics, organizers claimed the stadiums were empty because the security logistics of getting in were poorly planned out, and thousands were left outside with tickets in hand, unable to enter the arenas. Screening people for weapons, alcohol, and other prohibited items was taking too long, long enough that many did not reach the beginning of the security line for hours.
Over the weekend, some images appeared on social media of these lines. One witness estimated wait times on this line to be about 40 minutes before arriving at the security checkpoint:
— Cristina Boeckel (@cristinaboeckel) August 9, 2016
As the days went on, however, officials acknowledged that many of those empty seats were, in fact, expected to remain empty. On Wednesday, the Brazilian Olympic committee announced that it would be looking into filling empty seats with public school students for free, so as to give the appearance of fuller stadiums while providing locals a service. “We care about the empty seats,” spokesman Mario Andrada insisted. “We are dealing with it.”
Brazilian officials have expressed concern for months that not enough people were buying tickets for events. Rio de Janeiro has faced significant public safety problems in the immediate time before the Olympics, most notably an uptick in violent crime due in part to police lacking the funds to properly patrol, and a Zika epidemic that has left thousands of infants with irreparable neurological damage. Medical experts repeatedly called for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to postpone or relocate the Games, warning that foreign influx into Brazil may spread the outbreak to regions of the world Zika has never been documented in before. They have also strongly warned women who are pregnant or may become pregnant to stay away from Zika-affected areas. Foreigners are said to make up only a fourth of Olympic ticket sales as a result.