AP Interview: Coe defends Olympic ticketing

The cost of staging the London Olympics remains within budget and glitches in the ticketing process are being ironed out before the next batch go on sale in April, organizing chief Sebastian Coe said Thursday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the two-time 1,500-meter Olympic champion defended his organization against charges that ticket sales have been flawed from the very beginning.

Last year, organizers put the first batch of tickets on sale via a complicated ballot system. Many customers were left empty-handed and others ended up with far fewer tickets than they had hoped for and often not the ones they had wanted.

“We've done it in bigger numbers than anything on the planet,” Coe said.

Coe said he had three objectives for the Olympic ticketing process — making sure the venues were full throughout the games, selling a large chunk of the tickets at affordable prices and raising a quarter of his committee's 2 billion pound ($3.1 billion) private operating budget.

About 1.9 million people made 24 million ticket applications for the 6 million tickets available through the ballot. Some people now want to offload their Olympic tickets and the London organizers created a resale website for that. However, the site, operated by Ticketmaster, was unable to cope with the traffic and was shut down within hours of its launch earlier this month.

Although the site has now reopened to allow customers to sell unwanted tickets, prospective buyers won't be able to purchase any until April.

“On the first day it didn't work as well as we wanted it to work,” Coe said. “This was something we weren't satisfied with.”

London's preparations for the games, which take place from July 27 to Aug.12, have been relatively smooth. Coe insisted the cost of hosting the 16-day sporting spectacle remains within budget. The government's budget for the games, which includes all the venue construction and infrastructure projects, totals 9.3 billion pounds ($14.5 billion).

“We will maintain a balanced budget to the completion of the project and the infrastructure will be delivered within the budget that has already been agreed by government,” Coe said. “Occasionally some things are slightly more than you expect. On a lot of occasions they're slightly less than you expect, but overall those changes have taken place within that 9.3 billion pound envelope.”

Earlier Thursday, Sky Sports News projected that the final cost for the games will be over 12 billion pounds ($18 million) and could even reach 24 billion pounds ($37 billion). The British broadcaster said costs are rising because of a number of factors, including more anti-doping control officers, money for local councils for their Olympic torch relay programs and paying more so Underground subway workers won't strike.

With the finishing line in sight, Coe said London will increasingly begin to look like an Olympic city. He noted that the Olympic rings are already up at St. Pancras international train station and the commercial partners have started branding their buildings.

However, much of the focus over the final months will be spent making sure that everything has been tested thoroughly. Already three-quarters of the sports venues have been tested.

While conceding that many aspects of a smooth functioning of the games were outside the control of the organizing committee, Coe said relations with all involved players, including Transport for London, are solid.

“We've got teams now working all their waking hours testing all these systems and it is very serious,” Coe said. “I know as an athlete when I've been shortchanged at a championship because people clearly haven't tested systems.”

Coe declined to comment directly on Wednesday's resignation of a volunteer on the Olympics' sustainability commission over Dow Chemical Co.'s sponsorship of the games.

Campaigner Meredith Alexander said she was quitting the watchdog body to protest Dow's links to the deadly 1984 gas leak at a Union Carbide plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal, which killed an estimated 15,000 people. Activists have protested Dow's sponsorship of a decorative wrap that will circle the Olympic Stadium.

While recognizing the “pain still felt around the disaster at Bhopal,” Coe said Dow was not the owner or the operator of the plant at the time. Dow bought Union Carbide in 2000.

Critics argue the purchase makes the U.S.-based company responsible for groundwater contamination and other issues that still linger in India. Bhopal victims' groups have demanded the scrapping of the Olympic sponsorship deal, saying it gives undue publicity to a company they accused of refusing to clean up after itself.

Later Thursday, Coe was joined in Davos by British Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson to unveil a video ad on the games.

“Now all that remains is for you to come to London and see it for yourself,” Cameron said.

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