Rio 2016: Stadiums not filled to capacity

Saddleworth Independent’s sports editor Tony Bugby is reporting from his seventh Olympic Games and here he gives an unique insight into how Rio de Janeiro is coping with the greatest show on earth.

rio_olympics_2016_logo_a_pONE OF the saddest aspects of the Olympic Games is the spectator numbers which are by far the lowest than at any of the seven Olympic Games I have attended.

What a contrast to London 2012 when nearly every event was a sellout, and the final of the 100m had 250,000 applicants for tickets to watch Usain Bolt.

Fast forward four years to Rio de Janeiro and, sadly, it is an altogether different story with venues only filled to a fraction of their capacity.

You have to remember Brazil is the grips of a deep recession and ticket prices are exorbitant, even for those living in a nation with a vibrant economy.

There is wealth and affluence in Rio – just walk along Copacabana of a Sunday afternoon. But there are huge areas of poverty and deprivation too where life in the favellas is about survival.

It would be interesting to see how aware they are that the Olympics are in their backyard, and also their interest. They have certainly not enriched their lives.

Certainly for them attending the Games would be a dream and beyond their means. But rather than having near-empty stadiums, wouldn’t it be better to give away tickets to the less privileged, a gesture of goodwill as organisers continually refer to themselves as being the ‘Olympic Family.’

Tickets for the finals of Olympic swimming events are literally like gold dust – you cannot get them for love nor money.

This is the first time I have seen empty seats as it was barely two third full on Sunday when Adam Peaty won Great Britain’s first gold.

And there was a stellar line up with American swim legend Michael Phelps marking his return by helping the USA win the 4 x 100m freestyle relay, his 19th gold medal.

Phelps has won more Olympic medals than Jamaica has as a nation, a statistic I saw trotted out to underline just how important a figure he is in the sport.

There was a 10,000 crowd for the cross-country phase of the three-day horse event at Deodoro which organisers were delighted by.

But in the context of Badminton Horse Trials at home, that event has 10 times more for the same phase.

Following Oldham’s Nicola White in the hockey, the matches against Australia and India, I would estimate less than one thousand spectators at each.

It was the same for Spain and Croatia at basketball, the second and 12th ranked teams in the world yet the stadium was barely one quarter full, may be even less for an attractive fixture which lived up to its star billing.

Even the beach volleyball on Copacabana – the stadium has been erected on the sand providing a stunning backdrop – cannot pull in the punters for a sport which is almost as popular as football. Yet bizarrely out on the sand there are probably more playing the game than spectating the world’s top players.

I am not alone with such observations as it is a constant topic of conversation and Jim White, the respected sports writer from the Daily Telegraph, told me he was amazed to watch Wimbledon winner Andy Murray and brother Jamie playing a doubles match in front of a couple of hundred spectators.

The Olympics are the greatest show on Earth as we are continually told, and the sporting performances are remarkable.

It is just a pity there are no more people attending events as it must be soul destroying for them to work tireless over a four-year cycle to get to the Olympics only for so few people to be there to appreciate their efforts.

As a spectator it is always uplifting to be present when a Brit wins a medal, and that was the case when Peaty struck gold in the pool on Sunday night.

It gives you goose bumps, especially when the national anthem strikes up and the Union Flag raised.

And Peaty, who smashed the world record, is an amazing talent for somebody aged just 21 and who only broke on to the big stage at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. He is also by all accounts a lovely lad, quiet and unassuming.

It was special, as comedian Max Boyce used to wax lyrical, to say ‘I was there’ when he used to enthuse about the Welsh rugby union team’s exploits.

I am sure in years to come I will bore people rigid by telling them I was there when Peaty won his first Olympic gold, just as I was there when Sally Gunnell and Linford Christie won in Barcelona, Steve Redgrave won his fifth Olympic gold in Sydney, Kelly Holmes her middle-distance double in Athens and I was there when Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farrar and Greg Rutherford all won gold in the space of one hour during ‘Super Saturday’ at London 2012.

They are memories that will live with more forever as I am sure will be the case for others who witnessed them.

What made them even more special was the fact they were witnessed by capacity crowds that created an electrifying atmosphere.

Had they been done in front of half-empty venues, I am sure they would not have been quite so magical.

 

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