Rio Olympics ticket sales lagging as Zika concerns soar
Premier events, opening ceremony sold out as organizers aim to make buying easier for Brazilians
With five months to go before the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian organizers are struggling to sell tickets for South America's first games.
On a day when Rio organizers sought to provide reassurances over the Zika outbreak, venue delays, doping legislation, metro construction and other issues, Rio organizing committee spokesman Mario Andrada said only about 47 per cent of the 7.5 million tickets on offer have been sold so far.
The revenue from ticket sales stands at $194 million, or 74 per cent of the total target, he said from Lausanne, Switzerland.
Tickets for "premier events" and the Aug. 5 opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium are essentially sold out, Andrada said.
Most tickets for the foreign market have been sold, he added, leaving domestic sales as the main priority.
"We are going to increase the ability for people to buy tickets," Andrada said. "We plan to set up electronic ticket sales kiosks across the city."
For the 2012 London Olympics, British organizers sold 8.2 million out of 8.5 million tickets. They raised 659 million pounds (nearly $1 billion) in ticket sales from the Olympics and Paralympics.
"Brazilians, they do not buy tickets at such an early stage."- IOC president Thomas Bach
Ticket prices for the Rio Olympics range from 40 reals ($10) to a high of 4,600 reals ($1,170) for the opening ceremony. The average ticket price is 70 reals ($18) or less.
Amid a severe economic downturn, Brazil's minimum wage is 880 reals ($220) and the unemployment rate is running at about 10 per cent.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach shrugged off the slow pace of ticket sales, saying it was part of the Brazilian way of doing things.
"I have no concerns at all there," he said following a two-day IOC executive board meeting. "Brazilians, they do not buy tickets at such an early stage, as the British or the Germans. There is no concern at all. We had comparable figures before Athens and other Olympic Games."
"I have no doubt that when the time comes, these numbers will increase," he said.
Rio organizers gave one of their final detailed progress reports to the International Olympic Committee executive board, as Brazil faces severe economic and political crises.
Brazil is mired in its worst recession since the 1930s, President Dilma Rousseff is fighting impeachment and the country is dealing with a vast corruption scandal centred on state-controlled oil-and-gas giant Petrobras.
"Given this crisis, the achievements made by the organizing committee and the Brazilians are even more remarkable," Bach said after giving a glowing assessment of Rio's final preparations.
Brazil is also the epicenter of the spread of Zika, the mosquito-borne virus that has been linked to a rise in cases of babies born with abnormally small heads.
Rio organizers told the IOC they are following the guidance of the World Health Organization, which has declared the Zika outbreak a global health emergency but has said the Olympics should be safe during Brazil's winter.
Andrada said there had been no discussion about the advice issued last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said pregnant women should consider not going to Brazil and that their male sexual partners use condoms after the trip or abstain from sex during the pregnancy.
Bach said the IOC considers the WHO its "partner" on the Zika issue.
Andrada said athletes will have air conditioning in their rooms in the village and will be advised to keep the windows closed to keep any mosquitoes out.
Zika 'a moving target'
"Zika is a moving target," he said. "It's a global tragedy, especially for women and pregnant woman. But from a broader games perspective, the WHO believes it will not be a major factor."
Rio organizing committee president Carlos Nuzman spoke to the IOC board in person, while CEO Sidney Levy and Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes appeared by video link.
Rio has been seeking to save $500 million to balance its $1.8 billion operating budget, but Nuzman insisted the quality of the games would not be hurt by the economic pinch.
"The games will not be affected by any cuts," he said. "There are no cuts that impact the games, the athletes or the field of play. We are not cost cutting. We are organizing a balanced budget. The most important thing is that we will have absolutely fantastic games in spectacular venues."
Nuzman said 90-95 per cent of the venues are finished. Delays on the velodrome will be overcome, he said, and the track cycling venue will be ready for a test event in late April.
On other issues, Nuzman said:
- A key subway line extension connecting the Copacabana and Ipanema beach areas to the western suburb of Barra da Tijuca, where the main Olympic Park is located, will be completed in time for the games. He said the state governor had given assurances that the 10.3 billion Brazilian real ($2 billion) project will be ready.
- A presidential decree will be enacted on March 15 to meet the March 18 deadline set by the World Anti-Doping Agency for Brazil to meet its global rules. If Brazil fails to comply, doping samples during the games could have to be sent outside Brazil for analysis.
- Rio will do monthly testing until April of the polluted waterways that will host Olympic sailing and rowing competitions.
The testing will increase to twice a week after April and then will be conducted on a daily basis during the games.