Olympics Empty Seats Row: LOCOG Calls in the Army (Again)

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Soldiers have been drafted in to fill empty seats at the London 2012 Olympics after prime seating at the aquatics centre, gymnastics arena and basketball venue again went unused on the second day of competition.

More than 50 soldiers took seats at the North Greenwich Arena on Sunday morning when they were left empty by the "Olympic family". Some of the troops, working at the Olympics to provide security, said they were scheduled to start shifts but instead were offered courtside seats at the basketball arena to watch the USA v France.

Despite featuring superstars including Kobe Bryant and being close to a sellout with the public, there were around 40 empty seats in the arena reserved for Olympic and sporting officials. "We’re seat fillers," said one of 15 soldiers drafted on Sunday afternoon. "They asked who likes basketball and we put our hands up."

The London organising committee (Locog) refused to rule out offering seats to G4S staff if the problem persists. The action came after the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said on Saturday the empty seats were "very disappointing" and Locog launched an investigation. Organisers indicated international sporting federations are the main cause of the problem in the accredited areas, and the International Olympic Committee has told them to deal with the issue.

Pictures of athletes competing against banks of empty seats were beamed around the world on the first day of competition but Lord Coe, the Locog chairman, was initially dismissive of the problem, saying on Sunday: "Those venues are stuffed to the gunnels."

He denied that having troops fill seats appeared shambolic. "If we have the army sitting there on rest periods we can ask them if they want to sit in there and watch it," he said. "We take it seriously. I don’t want to see swathes of those seats empty."

Coe said he believed the problem would settle down, adding that it was a result of representatives of national Olympic committees, sporting federations and some sponsors taking time to "work out the shape of their day" and decide where to go.

The organisers faced growing pressure to act. The former Olympics minister, Tessa Jowell, called for more tickets to be handed out to soldiers, school children and teachers "to ensure that every single available ticket is offered to somebody who will use it". Lord Moynihan, the British Olympic Association chairman, suggested a "30-minute rule" for non-attendees, with empty seats to be filled by home fans. He said organisers "owe it to the British sporting public to give them an opportunity to attend one of the most historic sporting events of their lives".

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