In less than two years time the 30th Summer Olympics will officially open in East London. Two hundred and five countries will be sending over eighteen thousand athletes to compete in thirty different sports and over three hundred events. One of the most eagerly anticipated sports is the football, as for the first time in our living lives we will see a combined Great Britain team try to win Gold.
But unlike many other sports (Boxing being a notable other exception), the football has a number of stipulations as to which players can be picked to play. Each team will consist of its “under 23’s” team, which is interesting as we don’t actually have one, and can be supplemented with three over aged players. Whilst there will be a Great Britain team, to be managed by Sir Alex Ferguson so we are led to believe, quite who will be playing is unclear. The tournament comes right in the middle of pre-season preparations, and starts (the football tournament actually commences on the 25th July) just 24 days after the final of Euro2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Also, whilst it is a “Great Britain” team, in a letter to the IOC in May 2009 the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Football Associations said that they would not be allowing qualified players to play in the team, although they would not stop the team being called a “Great Britain” XI. So all round happy faces.
Twenty eight teams will play in the tournament but it is the choice of venues that makes interesting reading. It will be one of the first Olympic games where the final will not be played in the main Olympic Stadium (1992 and 1996 were played elsewhere) with Wembley Stadium being used. But the other games will all be held in stadiums with capacities far greater than demand is likely to be.
Five other venues will be used for the tournament:-
- Old Trafford – capacity 76,212
- Hampden Park – capacity 52,103
- St James’ Park – capacity 52,103
- Ricoh Arena – capacity 32,500
- Millennium Stadium – capacity 74,500
Now call me an old sceptical goat but do we really think that the crowds “will flock to these special games” as the organising committee would have us believe? Remember back to Euro96 in England where a number of games played in the likes of the City Ground Nottingham or even St James’s Park when the unofficial crowd for Romania v Bulgaria could have been counted on one hand. One thing the organisers could do of course to get better attendances is ensure the ticket prices are very low. But they seem to have ignored that. On announcing the “pocket money prices”, how many will come and see Mali v South Korea in Coventry for £20 (if you can get any), let alone £185 for a final ticket at Wembley (more expensive that the most expensive Champions League final ticket in May 2011). The concept of children “paying their age” is all fine and dandy, but a 15 year old will end up paying more than he would for England v Montenegro in a Euro2012 qualifier at Wembley.
Four years ago China sold the tickets dirt cheap for all events. Eight years ago in Greece they played the football games in stadiums miles away from Athens (bar one exception), with ticket prices at just €10. Attendances were fine for games featuring the host nation or favourites Argentina but for the likes of Paraguay v Ghana they attracted just over a thousand fans.
Do we really think that Mali v South Korea at Old Trafford in 2012 will attract anyone than a few dozen fans? Sure its “The Olympics” but you are not seeing the best players in the world nor are we evening seeing the best youngsters as the big clubs will always try and find a loophole to stop their players being released.
England is often a host country for International friendlies. Just last week we saw Brazil play Ukraine at Derby’s Pride Park. The reason – apparently Derby has the largest Ukrainian community in England. Thirteen thousand turned up to watch it, but if it would have been Ukraine v Switzerland what are the bets the attendance would have been sub 2,000 although at £30 a ticket it probably didn’t help as well. In the past few months we have seen Ghana v Latvia at Milton Keynes, played in front of 5,000 mostly Ghanian fans but priced at over £25 for an adult seat and the classic South Korea v Ivory Coast played at 3pm on a weekday at Loftus Road which attracted an “official” attendance of 6,000 although unofficially a friend counted no more than 1,000 there. Nearly three years ago I went to Craven Cottage to watch a full strength Australian team play a full strength Nigeria team. It was a Saturday at 3pm. Tickets were £20 and despite being almost in the heart of the biggest Australian community outside Australia itself less than 5,000 turned up.
So here to me was the logical decision. Play the matches at sub-15,000 capacity stadiums for the opening games and cut ticket prices by 50%. Belarus v Chile will never attract more than 5,000 even if the tickets were £5 each so why not play it at Brentford, Walsall or even Crewe? Cardiff City’s new stadium could be perfect for the games based in Wales, and St Mirren’s new ground could substitute for Hampden. Or is this more about putting on a show for the world? Who will be asking and more importantly answering the questions when the games kick off in Newcastle with one man and his dog in the ground?