A respectable, if unspectacular, crowd was expected to witness the first sporting action of the Olympics when the women’s soccer competition kicked off at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff yesterday.
The stadium, which holds 74,500 spectators, was likely to be about half-full — or half-empty, depending on your point of view — when Great Britain lined up against New Zealand yesterday afternoon.
Soccer players and administrators said they were pleased at the number of tickets sold and that Cardiff, a city with a proud sporting history, would be a fine setting for the start of the London Games.
Councillor Huw Thomas, Cardiff council’s Cabinet member for sport, said he was confident the Welsh capital would put on a great show.
“We are used to putting on world-class sporting events and this is a city with sport at its heart. I think excitement will grow,” Thomas said.
Gerry Toms, the general manager of the Millennium Stadium, said: “There was some criticism that ticket sales were slow, but clearly there is an interest in the football and the Olympics. People who are not normally football fans want to be able to say that they were there.”
A host of events were arranged around the soccer, from street performances to a nukber of taster games of netball.
Ed Townsend, of city promoters Cardiff & Co, said the town center was buzzing.
“There are a lot of people with smiley faces walking around the city today and I don’t think it’s just because of the lovely weather,” he said.
He added that hotels were reporting they were doing good business.
Townsend admitted he had yet to see hoards of fans arriving in the city (Cameroon were scheduled to play Brazil after the GB game).
“But we are expecting a load of Japanese fans on Tuesday, when Japan play South Africa,” Townsend said.
There was still bemusement as to why the first games were being staged in Cardiff. The answer is two-fold: The soccer competitions have to be started early because they take so long and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games thought it better to stage the game away from London, so as not to take the shine off the opening ceremony tomorrow.
There was also disappointment that no Welsh player was picked for the women’s team.
Bob Rice, of Castle Welsh Crafts, said he had a few soccer fans in buying souvenirs.
“I live in hope there will be a rush. The banners are up, shopkeepers are sprucing up their fronts and the streets are having a spring clean,” he said.
British Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt and Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan were to be in Cardiff for the soccer.
“I am immensely proud that the world’s greatest sporting event starts in Wales. Wales is playing a leading role in London 2012 — the medals and the athletes’ numbers are all made in Wales, as well as elements of the Olympic Park itself,” Gillan said.
“I want the whole country to showcase everything that’s great about Wales,” she added.