Wed, Nov 07, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Beijing Olympics cancels first-come, first-served tickets


Beijing Olympics organizers had no choice but to cancel a first-come, first-served ticket sales policy because overwhelming demand threw the process into chaos, a senior official said in an interview published yesterday.

Sales in China will revert to a lottery system, organizers said on Monday, after so many people tried to buy tickets during first-come, first-served sales last week that the computer system crashed. Ticketing officials suspended sales after less than one day.

"First-come, first-served doesn't fit China, we can't follow the example of other countries," Wei Jizhong (魏紀中), a member of the IOC Olympic program commission and a senior adviser to Beijing organizers, was quoted as saying by the state-run Beijing News.

The policy works when demand is low, he said, but the Beijing Olympics has been hotly anticipated since the city won the bid in 2001. Excitement is so high that nearly 3,500 children in China have been named "Aoyun" (奧運) which means Olympics, state media reported recently.

"China has 1.3 billion people but the number of tickets isn't significantly greater. If we copy other countries' sales policies, it will be a mistake," Wei said.

China has four times more people than the US and 65 times more than 2000 Olympics host Australia. The population of Beijing (17 million) is greater than the entire country of 2004 host Greece (11 million).

When the second phase of ticket sales kicked off Oct. 30, the official ticketing Web site had 8 million views in the first hour. The telephone hot line also overloaded after receiving 3.8 million calls in that hour.

The Beijing Olympics organizing committee, or BOCOG, said on Monday that sales will revert to a lottery system similar to one used in the first phase of ticketing in April.

People who want to buy tickets can submit orders between Dec. 10 and Dec. 30. The date and details of the lottery would be announced at a later, unspecified time.

About 43,000 tickets were sold on Oct. 30, when 1.85 million tickets became available. A total of more than 7 million tickets will be sold for the Beijing Olympics.

"It is encouraging to see that so many people in China and around the world are very eager to attend the Beijing Games," the International Olympic Committee said in a statement. "The new policy put in place by BOCOG ... will undoubtedly continue to ensure a fair and convenient process for all of those sports fans in China that would like to attend the Games."

Other than concerns about Beijing's notorious air pollution, preparations for the Olympics that open Aug. 8 have gone well so far. The city has earned high praise from the International Olympic Committee for its venues, and athletes had few complaints during a series of test events over the last several months.

But the ticketing fiasco was a big frustration for Chinese, some of who feel their interests have been sidelined in the flurry of preparations for the event that is expected to attract an estimated 500,000 to 800,000 foreign visitors.

Wei could not be reached. BOCOG's media office asked for an e-mailed interview request, to which it did not immediately respond.

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