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Military drafted in to fill empty seats at London Olympics

Ivan Alvarado / Reuters

Spectators sit among empty seats during the men's Group A volleyball match between Britain and Bulgaria at the London 2012 Olympic Games on Sunday.

LONDON - Britain was forced to bring in military personnel at short notice to provide security for the London Olympics -- and has now done the same to help fill thousands of empty seats at several venues despite the massive public demand for tickets.

Many ordinary people who applied for tickets -- in what was essentially a lottery – missed out and there were numerous complaints about the allocation process.

But the first day saw rows of empty seats at events including swimming, dressage, tennis, gymnastics and volleyball -- according to reports in The Guardian and Telegraph newspapers -- to the outrage of many, including U.K. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Hunt said the sight of so many empty seats was "very disappointing," according to ITV News. "I was at the Beijing Games, in 2008, 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," he added.

London 2012 organizers LOCOG said it was looking into the issue, saying it appeared many of the empty seats were in "accredited seating areas," which are reserved for members of the "Olympic family," such as officials, athletes, their family and friends, journalists, and some corporate sponsors.

Oda / Getty Images

From Wimbledon to Wembley Stadium to The Dome, a look at the venues for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

At the daily briefing Sunday, LOCOG chairman Sebastian Coe said most venues were "stuffed to the gunnels," but admitted some of the "tens of thousands" of Olympic family members had either not turned up -- on the morning after the Opening Ceremony and associated parties -- or had only gone for a short while before moving on somewhere else.

There was laughter as he was asked about the logistics of "drafting in the army" to fill seats.

"We won't be cancelling leave," Coe quipped, saying military personnel and others, such as local teachers and students, were simply asked if they wanted to see events when there were unfilled seats. Tickets were also being sold to the public, he said.

Coe, who said 75 percent of tickets went to the public, said he did not expect the situation to continue.

Will Mott/@wmottITV

This picture of empty seats at the swimming heats, for which there had been very high demand for tickets, was posted on Twitter by ITV News producer Will Mott.

"I'm pretty sure this is not going to be an issue that we are going to be talking about in three to four days' time," he said, explaining accredited ticket holders would still be "figuring out" what their duties involved, transport arrangements and other logistical issues this early in the Games.

"I do take it seriously. Where we possibly can, we will get people into those seats where and when they are not being used," Coe added.

Twitter was abuzz with pictures of empty seats and criticism of the large areas without spectators at the affected events.

Sally Bercow, wife of the speaker of the House of Commons in the U.K. parliament, said in a message on Twitter that she was “loving” the Games, but added she was “so cross at all the empty seats. Sort it out FGS! So unfair for all of us who wanted to go :-/”

'How dare they?'
Comedian Jenny Eclair ‏was equally annoyed. “I've seen enough empty seats in my life without watching the Olympics - tragic waste - how dare they?” she tweeted.

And former British newspaper editor and CNN broadcaster Piers Morgan tweeted that “These empty corporate sponsor seats at swimming etc are a total bloody disgrace. Sort it out, Lord Coe.”

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The Guardian said there were an estimated 500 empty seats at the swimming heats featuring Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte; more than 1,000 at the gymnastics morning section, which was supposed to be sold out; and more than 3,500 at the volleyball.

The Telegraph’s report about the issue had more than 1,000 comments from readers.

“I was at the volleyball last night in Earls Court. Virtually all the prime seats right in front of the court were empty. An absolute disgrace and extremely unfair to the competitors who would surely appreciate a crowd of supportive fans to cheer them on,” one reader, kafkander, wrote.

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“The time to fix it is now. Simply issue a decree that if people are not in their seats by 45 mins before event start time, the seats will be re-let at cut price cash on the door fees … I would have liked to have gone but couldnt get tickets and/or was disenchanted by all the reports of the Pre Olympic ticket scandals and outrageous pricing,” another, whitevanman, said.

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