Athletics - 13 Aug 2013 - By Martin Ross
The IAAF, athletics’ international governing body, has defended the level of attendance at the sport’s World Championships, presently taking place at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, and predicted an increase in the number of spectators as the event continues this week.
Large swathes of empty seats have been one of the major talking points since the event began on Saturday, with the morning sessions often taking place in front of fewer than 10,000 spectators and after claims ahead of the championships that over 80 per cent of the total available tickets for each competition day had been sold.
The IAAF has moved to defend the attendances at the stadium, pointing to an audience of 40,461 spectators (plus thousands of accredited guests such as VIPs, media and athletes) on Sunday evening for the men’s 100-metres final, won by the sport's biggest star, Usain Bolt.
The world body told Sportcal: ‘‘We have to be careful of reading too much into the early days of competitions when there are fewer finals on offer, especially as the stadium was close to capacity for the 100m men’s final and we are confident that we will see an improvement in spectator figures as the week continues.’’
The Luzhniki Stadium has a normal seated capacity of 78,360, but the IAAF reduced the capacity for the championships to block out sections of seats, as it did for the last World Championships in 2011, in Daegu, South Korea.
The capacity in Moscow was limited to 59,000 for Saturday's and Sunday’s sessions, with room for 43,000 spectators and 16,000 accredited guests, and then lowered to 50,000 (34,000 spectators and 16,000 accredited guests) for Monday’s action.
The IAAF claimed that Sunday evening’s attendance added up to 56,461 when taking into account accredited guests, making it "the highest audience for 33 years at an athletics competition in Russia."
The IAAF added: "Although the Russian team wins lots of medals at top competitions, our sport is not as popular amongst the public as we believe it should be, and both the annual IAAF World Challenge meeting and the Russian National Championships held in this same stadium does not attract more than 1,000 spectators."
Attendance figures, as displayed in the table below, were issued by the event organisers and the IAAF to the assembled media in Moscow yesterday, and are based upon the scanning of tickets upon entry at the stadium gate, meaning that somebody who enters and exits multiple times only counts once.
Reports that sections of free tickets have been distributed to boost attendances were dismissed by the IAAF, which said: "It is not correct that free tickets are already being distributed. The ticket sales includes those made by individuals for single sessions or groups of sessions, or purchased by Russian organisations in packages for groups of school kids, university students, members of sport schools, Regions, Moscow Council, the Russian Athletics Federation and other sports organisations."
The IAAF also highlighted a comparison with ticket sales in Daegu two years ago for the first three days of competition, saying that there were 44,024 spectators at the first evening session (from a capacity of over 45,000), and then 30,889 fans at the Sunday evening session (from a curtailed 33,000 capacity) and 29,281 at the Monday evening session (from a 33,000 capacity).
In April, Lamine Diack, the IAAF president, criticised Russian government officials, including president Vladimir Putin and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, for failing to adequately promote the World Championships, noting that there had been a lack of television commercials advertising the event, compared with the number touting the Universiade in Kazan and the Sochi 2014 winter Olympic Games.
However, speaking two and a half weeks before the championships began, the IAAF said that over 80 per cent of the total number of tickets available for each of the nine days of competition had been sold.
Essar Gabriel, the IAAF general secretary, said at the time: "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."
|Spectator numbers for first three days of 2013 IAAF World Championships|
|Session||Total number of spectators||Percentage of (curtailed) stadium capacity|
|Saturday 10th August - morning||9,420||21.9%|
|Saturday 10th August - evening||31,895||74.2%|
|Sunday 11th August - morning||12,841||29.9%|
|Sunday 11th August - evening||40,641 ||94.5%|
|Monday 12th August - morning||9,350||27.5%|
|Source: IAAF / Moscow 2013 LOC|
Sergei Bubka, the IAAF vice-president, raised the possibility that some locals might have bought tickets, which were available from as little as 100 rubles ($3.02), but not turned up, telling Reuters: "It was hot and very sunny and I know for Muscovites — they always go to their dachas [holiday homes], they go outside, and maybe someone has bought a ticket and they don’t attend.
“We insisted very seriously and very strongly regarding a promotion campaign and a lot of money was invested.”
The official attendance figures released by the IAAF and local organisers have been met with some scepticism from UK journalists attending the championships.
Sean Ingle, sports editor at the guardian.co.uk, tweeted: "Back in the Luzhniki for #moscow2013. Organisers claiming that 9,350 people here yesterday [Monday] morning - suspect there were less than half that."
Laura Williamson, athletics correspondent for the Daily Mail, said on Twitter: "#Moscow2013 claiming there were 9,350 spectators here yesterday [Monday] morning & 40,461 to watch Bolt on Sunday night. Hmmm. Really?"
Meanwhie, Tatyana Lebedeva, vice-president of the Russian Athletics Federation, admitted that errors had been made by the organisers and also claimed that tickets had been distributed free of charge.
She told the Sovietsky Sport newspaper: "Yes the stands are absolutely not full. Yes, tickets are being given away for free. And in the end the organisers are not getting by without mistakes.
"But let's be a bit indulgent. We just do not have experience of holding major athletics events. There are lots of things we do not know. We are learning and learning with pleasure."