Majority of Olympic tickets still unsold

ATHENS, JUNE 1. More than half the tickets for the Athens Olympics remain unsold with spectator demand apparently slow and corporate sponsors buying far fewer seats than four years ago, organisers said on Tuesday.

The figures seemed to reinforce some of the worst fears for the August 13-29 Games: security worries and a shaky global economic recovery leaving unfilled venues for all but the top events.

But organisers staked faith in the Greek tradition of last-minute planning and noted that their revenue goal was within reach even with slow sales.

A total of 5.3 million tickets were set aside for Athens — 3 million to the public and 2.3 million for the ``Olympic family'' of International Olympic Committee officials, sponsors and others.

But just 1.83 million tickets have been sold so far. Officials would not give a breakdown of how many were for the public and Olympic family.

``The stadiums of the Olympic Games ... must be and will be full. We firmly believe that this is the image of the country we want to give to the outside world,'' said Marton Simitsek, a top Olympic planner.

The revenue picture is brighter. Organisers said their goal was to make $223 million from tickets, which has been sold in various periods since May 12, 2003. About $167 million has been made. They refused to give further details.

So far the most popular sports event is sailing on August 19, which is 99 per cent sold. The athletics on August 26 is 97 per cent sold for the 200 metres, which is expected to feature defending Olympic champion, the Greek sprinter Costas Kenderis.

Organisers did not disclose the number of tickets sold to the Olympic Family, but marketing director George Bolos said ``it is significantly less than Sydney.''

``In Sydney there were 120 sponsors, we have 35. So every sponsor is buying about 3,000 tickets, 4,000 tickets ... That makes a huge difference at the end of the day,'' Bolos said.

Organisers also said they believed Greeks would buy tickets as the Games approached. ``We should take into consideration that we Greeks do not run out to get tickets early,'' said Bolos, who predicted that stadiums would be at least 75 per cent filled.

Bolos added that the night events would probably sell out, while the morning events would be less popular. Tickets prices also have been kept modest to attract spectators in one of the European Union's poorest nations. — AP