World of Sport

World Championships marred by thousands of empty seats

World of Sport

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The World Championships is the largest athletics event to be held in Russia for the last 30 years – but what is supposedly a showpiece event has been tarnished by rows and rows of empty seats.

On Saturday a sea of orange, red and yellow seats were vacant on a day where the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt was competing in the 100m heats.

And in stark contrast to last year’s Olympic Games opening ceremony where an 80,000-strong crowd were treated to a near four-hour extravaganza, a half-empty Luzhniki played host to a somewhat quirky show that exhibited the work of famous Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky whilst documenting the history of the Soviet Space Programme.

It wasn’t exactly Paul McCartney rousing the crowd with a chorus of ‘Hey Jude’, but, with tickets as cheap as they were, it was puzzling to see so many empty seats.

Ticket sales had initially been a concern for those organising the event, leading to a decrease in price which ensured the cheapest tickets for the opening ceremony came in at 100 Roubles, less than £2.

Having reduced prices, organisers had insisted the event was set to be a great success, stating that the vast majority of the tickets had been sold.

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As recently as July 23, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported: “A wide-ranging promotional blitz for the upcoming World Athletics Championships in Moscow has boosted ticket sales to the point where more than 80 per cent of the total available for each of the nine days of competition have been sold.”

However, Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium has been all-but empty on the first two days of competition, even taking into account its capacity has been reduced from 78,000 to 35,000 for the event.

Sunday witnessed the bizarre sight of competitors in the decathlon - including world record holder and Olympic champion Ashton Eaton - requesting the traditional clap-along when conducting their pole vault run-up, only to be met with near silence.

Athletes' voices could be heard echoing around the cavernous stadium with only a few hundred spectators in attendance.

Again, by contrast, those same athletes performed in front of an 80,000-capacity crowd last year in a morning session during the wildly popular Olympic Games in London.

Row upon row of empty seats has the potential to be acutely embarrassing for Russia as it hosts its first major athletics championships since the Moscow Olympics of 1980.

In April, International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) president Lamine Diack criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minster Dmitry Medvedev for failing to do enough to promote the competition, provoking a response from the event’s marketing department.

“Since the beginning of July, thanks to enhanced promotional campaigns on television, radio, in the press, with billboards throughout the city and most recently, on the Moscow metro … we have seen a real surge in ticket sales,” IAAF general secretary Essar Gabriel said.

However, Moscow has no chance of matching the 140,000 tickets sold for the 2011 championships in Daegu, South Korea and if seats continue to sit empty then the potential for embarrassment will only grow...

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