Beijing Olympics Gymnastics Womens Team
Rob Carr  /  AP
While these fans were able to cheer on their team during the women's gymnastics team finals on Wednesday, it came at a cost. For some Olympic events, scalpers are selling tickets for as much as a $1,000.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 8/13/2008 5:55:21 AM ET 2008-08-13T09:55:21
THE OLYMPICS BUZZ

This is an ongoing series of Olympics cultural reports Sunny Wu is filing from Beijing. Check back twice a day for 'The Buzz' and 'Nightlife.'

Duleep Deosthale of New York was standing in the Olympic Green, a little deflated after the United States' second-place finish to China in team gymnastics Wednesday. The gymnastics fan, who was wearing a red, white and blue top hat and a U.S. flag as a cape, had witnessed the monumental clash between the Americans and Chinese, a matchup some said was the premier event of the Olympics.

He was stung, just like the women's team, which lost an early lead and stumbled to a silver medal. But what added to the sting was what he had to pay for his seat in the National Indoor Stadium.

"We do not talk about that sore spot," he said when asked how he scored the ticket.

But Deosthale, who has attended the past three Olympics, eventually opened up and released a torrent of frustration over the ticket system, the scalpers who were working the sidewalks outside the fenced venues and the empty seats that seemed to taunt would-be spectators and fans who had paid a premium to attend the Games.

"I paid $475," Deosthale finally admitted.

"Prices are unbelievable," he said. He had wanted to attend the swimming events earlier in the morning, but scalpers were asking for more than $1,000 a ticket, he said.

Frustration seems to be growing among foreign fans and the Chinese public as tickets remain scarce — and the ones available are selling at a premium — and venues remain empty, despite pronouncements that that Games were "sold out." Officials have now acknowledged they have had trouble filling venues.

Deoshale was doubly frustrated when he saw there were empty seats in the National Indoor Stadium.

"You're like, wait a minute. What's going on?" he said.

Fans who want to go to events are being forced to buy them from scalpers. Many tickets, many with face values of 30 to 50 RMB, were being sold for 500 RMB or more. Tickets for highly-sought events, like swimming, gymnastics and athletics, were in the thousands.

"(Officials) aren't thinking about us (the fans)," Deoshale said. "[The system is] putting the money in the hands of the scalpers."

"Business is good," said Benny Daniel, a professional ticket broker who had traveled from Houston to Beijing. "They (officials) are letting us work."

For a Santa Ana, Calif., gymnastics school that traveled to Beijing to cheer on Shawn Johnson and the U.S. squad, it was one aggravation after another. They were burned by beijingticketing.com, a bogus Web site that was shut down last week. After that, it was a mad scramble for tickets.

"We were three days out of our departure and we had no tickets," said Lorrene Lee, a volunteer mother.

Luckily for Lee and the school, two travel agencies in Pasadena and in Canda were able to secure tickets for the 51-person party.

"The logistics have been terrible," said Lee. The group was also blaming the lack of communication between officials and spectators.

And rumors were flying around the Green. The group was told there were tickets being sold at face value at hotels, but they didn't know which hotels. There were tickets at local branches of Bank of China, but only a few of them had them. No one knew which branches were selling the tickets. The public could get tickets to enter the Olympic Green, but none of the volunteers who were asked Wednesday knew about special Olympic Green tickets. The answer was still: You had to have a ticket to the day's events to enter.

It all meant that many fans were left confused — and without tickets.

"The people who lose out are committed spectators who come to watch the Games," Deoshale said. "It's just not right."

He also blamed the corporate ties of the Olympics as one of the reasons stadiums are empty. He and many others speculate that too many VIPs and sponsors were not using their allotment of tickets.

"It's frustrating," he groused.

The frustration wasn't only limited to visitors. Many Chinese are having trouble purchasing tickets. Wu Yue, a journalism major at a university near Shanghai, said she was lucky to get tickets for Wednesday afternoon's tennis matches. She had won a lottery to purchase tickets earlier in the year. Her friends were not as lucky.

"They don't know what to do," she said. "They're surfing the Internet and they're telling me that the prices are terrible."

As venues sit almost half-empty, officials will be dealing with a growing tempest. They've tried to fill stadiums by bringing in schoolchildren, students and volunteers to serve as cheerleaders and seat fillers. But for regular fans, they're outside looking in.

Or paying $475 for a seat.

"That's why it hurts a little for the silver medal," Deosthale said. "For $475 we should have gotten the gold medal."

Sunny Wu will be writing for msnbc.com throughout the Beijing Olympics. He can be reached at sunny.k.wu@gmail.com. You can follow more of his exploits at http://meiguoren.wordpress.com/.

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