SOLDIERS and students have been drafted in to fill empty rows at Olympic venues as investigations continue into why so many of the best seats are remaining vacant even when events are sold out.
Hundreds of seats went unfilled during the first two days of the Games at a events including swimming, rowing, tennis and basketball.
London 2012 chairman Lord Coe admitted members of the military had been brought in at the last minute – along with students and teachers from the local area – to fill rows of empty seats.
The move came amid growing concern that seats reserved for the “Olympic family” are not being taken up. The seats, which offer spectators the best views, are used by officials, sponsors, sports federations and athletes.
The British Olympic Association last night suggested a “30-minute rule”, which would see fans able to take up seats if people failed to fill then within half an hour of an event starting.
Lord Moynihan, the BOA chairman, said: “We owe it to the British sporting public to give them an opportunity to attend one of the most historic sporting events of their lives.”
But Lord Coe dismissed the suggestion, saying: “We have got a more considered way of doing that, that judges the situation on an hour-by-hour basis.”
At yesterday’s opening basketball match, 70 per cent of seats in the lower tier of the 12,000 capacity arena were empty and more then 20 per cent of the cheaper seats in the upper tier were unfilled as Nigeria took on Tunisia.
Organisers revealed soldiers had been drafted in to fill empty seats after prime blocks of seating at the Aquatics Centre and gymnastics arena went unused.
About 150 troops were despatched to the North Greenwich Arena yesterday by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog), to take up seats left empty.
Lord Coe said more troops, many of whom had their leave cancelled to provide emergency cover after private security firm G4S failed to recruit enough guards, will be issued with last-minute invites to take seats in venues when blocks of seats found to be empty.
“We were able to move those troops,” he said. “I’m not quite sure whether they were on a rest period or whether it was a transition from work through to a rest period, but they’re sitting there enjoying the gymnastics. We can and we have moved them in there.”
A Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman said: “Locog has kindly offered servicemen and women working on venue security to make use of unutilised seating when they are off duty.
“These seats will be made available to venue security personnel to utilise on a voluntary basis when off duty.”
Lord Coe also revealed that over the weekend, 115 schoolchildren and teachers from London who had been pre-accredited had been moved into seats they were not due to take up. Many tickets have also been recycled for sports with double sessions, such as hockey, basketball, water polo and handball. Just under 400 tickets for handball resold at £5 for adults and £1 for children at the weekend.
Lord Coe dismissed calls to “name and shame” the people or organisations that did not turn up for events.
Instead, he said organisers were looking at new ways to get people along to watch the Games, including re-selling tickets when people left venues early.
He said: “We can clearly sell more tickets, which we did on Saturday. We sold something like 1,000 tickets over three sessions. The other thing is we can tactically upgrade and move people.”
Lord Coe dismissed the growing concern over on-going issue of empty seats and denied that calling in the military appeared “shambolic”.
When asked to identify who should have been sitting in two-and-a half blocks of empty seats at the gymnastics, Lord Coe initially appeared to be in denial. He said: “Lets put this in perspective. Those venues are stuffed to the gunnels.”
He later clarified his position, saying: “We take it seriously. I don’t want to see swathes of those seats empty.
“If we have the army sitting there on rest periods, we can ask them if they want to sit in there and watch it. It’s not mobilising the army to resolve this.
“I don’t think there is a single person out there would thinks it is shambolic, given the way they have stepped up in the last weeks.”
The former Olympian said he believed the problem would “settle down”, saying it was a result of representatives of national Olympic committees, sporting federations and some sponsors taking time to “work out the shape of their day” and decide where to go.
He said: “There are hundreds of people working out how to spend their time, to arrange their days, and I am sure that this is not going to be an issue throughout the Games.”
About 8 per cent of the 8.8 million tickets for the Games have gone to “Olympic family” groups.
Jackie Brock-Doyle, Locog’s director of communications, denied that sponsors were responsible for the empty seats.
He said: “The sponsors are coming out in their droves as are the public. The majority of sponsors have shown up.”
Mark Adams, International Olympics Committee (IOC) communications director, added that those who failed to turn up yesterday were sporting organisations from around the world, the media, and just “a handful of sponsors”.
A number of sponsors – including British Airways, Coca-Cola, EDF, McDonalds and Thomas Cook – all issued statements denying they had failed to take up their seat allocations.
Westminster Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the empty seats were “very disappointing” and called for them to be offered to members of the public. He said the matter was being looked at “very urgently”.
He said: “It’s a shame this happened, but we are going to do everything we can to make sure we fill up these stadia.
“I was at the Beijing Games and one of the lessons that we took away from that, is that full stadia create the best atmosphere, it’s best for the athletes, it’s more fun for the spectators, it’s been an absolute priority.”
Shadow Olympics minister Dame Tessa Jowell said: “Anyone who is lucky enough to have tickets to the Games should either use them or give them up.
“I am pleased to see that unused tickets are now being distributed to members of our armed forces, local teachers and students, and it’s important that this process is stepped up to ensure that every single available ticket is offered to somebody who will use it.”
Organisers admit they are disappointed at the number of unused seats.
On the opening day of the Olympics there were an estimated 500 empty seats in one block of seats at Aquatic Centre where some of the world’s most successful swimmers, including Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, were appearing.
Even the presence of the British gymnastic team failed to fill North Greenwich Arena, where more than 2,000 seats lay empty despite ticket-buyers being told it was sold out.
Excluding the football, between 100,000 and 120,000 tickets remain unsold, organisers said. Some of those were already for sale online and others were being returned by sponsors and public from abroad.
A Wimbledon-style returns system, allowing people already in the Olympic Park to pick up tickets for basketball, hockey, handball and water polo, is now in operation.
Some commentators say the problems is caused by IOC stipulations that a certain number of seats are reserved for officials, athletes, federations and other accredited individuals.