Hardest ticket to sell: Filling those seats

Right in the shadow of the famed Zappeion Hall, which regularly hosts European summits and other weighty gatherings, visiting revelers of all shapes and sizes, if not ages, rock and roll till very late in a huge tent erected by one of the Olympic sponsors, Heineken – a brewer that helps bring us championship sport. It is just as incongruous a connection as the statue of Evangelis Zappas nearby, which has one of the 19th century patrons of Greece’s Olympic revival dressed in a suit, then cloaked in an ancient robe. Together they give a sense of the bewildering cultural contrasts and clashes that the Olympics are busy producing for the ancient city of Athens – not that anyone has time to notice, much less care, about such apparent absurdities. It’s all in the spirit of revelry, though you still have to pay for the beer. Even within the specific confines of the contemporary Olympics, the contrasts between sports and sporting cultures are equally stark and jostle for attention under the Olympic umbrella. The past few days has brought a good taste of it, all of which might shed light on the so-called «spectator problem» at these Games. TV screens show rows of empty seats at many arenas, vicarious proof that many events have been a hard sell in a country without a strong tradition of sports involvement. They also contrast with the wild welcoming scenes after Greece’s Euro 2004 soccer win. Foreign commentators harp on the lack of local interest this shows. Yet the organizers are confident that they have reached many of their ticketing goals, with over 3 million sold and revenue targets reached. In a game of spin that can be resolved just by looking and counting, who’s right?

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