By JULIE JAG
LONDON — Pete and Leslie Haddad’s Olympic event, the ticket mad dash, began as soon as they stepped off the train in London.
Carting their 4-year-old son Jackson along in a stroller Monday afternoon, they raced past such historical landmarks as Big Ben, Westminster Abby and Trafalgar Square and headed straight for Horse Guards Parade, just steps from Buckingham Palace. They had less interest in seeing her majesty the Queen than the queens and kings of the court in an Olympic session of beach volleyball, which both Haddads play regularly at Main Beach.
They reached the finish line – a box office near the venue entrance – only to discover that, as Americans, they were disqualified before they even started. No Olympic tickets, at any price point, not even to events with unsold seats, have been made available for foreigners to purchase in London.
“It sucks,” said Leslie Haddad, summing up the feeling of a growing number of Americans and other tourists who have been left feeling stranded.
On Monday night, the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, or LOCOG, released more than 3,000 tickets to the public in response to criticism that too many seats in the “sold out” venues went unoccupied. Jackie Brock-Doyle, the LOCOG communications director, said 3,800 tickets across 30 sessions in 15 sports were released .
However, all were distributed through the london2012.com website, which Americans and many other foreigners cannot access. They can’t stroll around the Olympic Park, either. Access is restricted to ticket holders of events held inside the park – which excludes those attending off-site events such as gymnastics, equestrian, judo, archery, fencing, boxing, soccer and volleyball – and to holders of Olympic Park tickets, which are also only available for sale to British residents.
“I feel really handcuffed, I can’t go anywhere,” said Kyle Dixon, who flew from Philadelphia to London with the hope of distributing T-shirts from his Aradii Wardrobe line — some of which feature the slogan “We Are Freedom” — to multi-national Olympics fans. “We really thought it would be easy. We thought getting into the park would be free. We didn’t expect what we got here.”
The policy of prohibiting access to the park strays from that of previous Olympics, according to Patti Mascetti of Bristol, Conn. This is Mascetti’s third Olympics — she attended the 1984 games in L.A. and ’96 in Atlanta — and she said she never has felt so shut out, nor had such a difficult time purchasing tickets during the Games.
“We still tried into 1:30 last night and got nothing,” Mascetti wrote in an email. “My group here wants to go to Olympic Park and ask for tickets [and] ask [to] put the response in YouTube [because] the stories are never the same… and we are obviously not in the right place or time to get any of the 3,000 tickets!”
Part of the problem is that the IOC distributes a limited number of tickets to each country’s National Organizing Committee. The NOCs then distributed them to their country’s residents, typically through third-party agencies. The agency for the United States and six other countries is CoSport, which has a London office but is only selling tickets online – where they have been sold out for months.
LOCOG’s Brock-Doyle said residents of the UK had been promised priority for these Games.
“We made a promise, as you know, at the very beginning [that] 75 percent of tickets would go to the British public. We also said, after we saw the demand, that if people had tickets they wanted to return, we would try to make sure British public had access to them. The box offices we have are primarily there to pick up tickets that have been bought online,” Brock-Doyle said. “We always said we wanted the British public to be in there and the demand from the British public has been so enormous that we will continue to drive any tickets that we get — any contingencies, any returns — directly to British public.”
When asked what course of action non-British tourists hoping to get into the Games should take, Brock-Doyle replied: “My suggestion would be to enjoy some of the great live sites that are out there, but we’re going to continue selling tickets to the British online.”
That’s just what the Haddads ended up doing. They had just a couple days in London after spending most of their time abroad in Bristol, where Pete, who works for Hewlett Packard, had been sent on a business trip he learned about three months ago, long after U.S. tickets sold out. So they took in the sights they’d rushed by in their hurry to find the box office, and they watched some of the Games on a jumbo screen set up at the Tower Bridge. If they wanted a live performance, they needed only to look over at little Jackson, who was practicing his pommel horse and floor routines and judo on the grass.
But Brock-Doyle’s advice didn’t sit well with many others who traveled thousands of miles and are paying beyond peak prices for lodging and foot to be here during the Olympics.
“There are empty seats and we have money and we want to pay, we want to get in. Instead we have to stand outside with our flags,” said Catherine Arnprister, 23, of Los Angeles, who arrived at one gate to the park with three Australian and American friends, their faces painted with their country’s flag.
“Only letting the English in with the extra tickets isn’t in the spirit of the Olympics,” Arnprister added. “Everyone should have a chance to enjoy them.”