Beijing apologises for Olympics ticket fiasco

Beijing Olympics organisers apologised on Wednesday after suspending ticket sales following a booking system meltdown, their first major blunder in preparations for next year’s Games.

About 1,8-million event tickets were supposed to go on sale on Tuesday on a first-come-first-served basis for people living in China, but organisers said demand was so great that the computer booking system crashed.

Rong Jun, head of the Beijing Olympic organising committee (Bocog) ticketing office, said he was sorry for disappointing millions of Chinese people, some of whom vented their anger in the press and on the internet over the fiasco.

”They have been very supportive of the Olympic Games and we were clearly not good to them in return,” he said.

”So on behalf of the Bocog ticketing centre, I sincerely apologise.”

Over eight million hits on the booking website were received in the first hour on Tuesday, far more than planners had expected, Bocog said.

The frenzy of activity was well beyond the system’s capacity of handling one million hits and processing 150 000 ticket sales in an hour.

In addition, the number of calls to the ticketing phone line exceeded 3,8-million in the first hour while many other callers were unable to get through, Bocog said.

”We underestimated just how enthusiastic the Chinese general public are about the Olympics,” said Rong, who was hauled before the press to explain what went wrong.

He said experts were working on upgrading the booking system and more information would be available on November 5, when sales would restart.

He promised the system would be fail-safe next time.

”After the improvement of the system we will make sure that… we will provide the general public with satisfactory service,” he said.

Aside from the disappointed internet ticket-hunters, others were left frustrated and angry after queueing most of Monday outside Bank of China branches, where tickets were also supposed to be on sale.

”We didn’t dare leave in case we lost our chance. The bank teller said the website was very slow,” student Xiao Hu told the Beijing Daily.

Jiang Wei, an editor at a Beijing newspaper, said she tried and failed to submit ticket requests for two hours. She made another vain attempt later in the day.

”I am very disappointed in the way the ticket department of Bocog has arranged this,” she said.

Despite boycott calls over issues like Burma and Darfur and controversy over its human rights record, Beijing’s planning and organisation of the Games has never before suffered a major setback.

Huge demand at home and abroad for tickets has pleased both Beijing organisers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has frequently praised Beijing in the past for flawless Games preparations.

”What we are confronted with here is huge demand. Everybody wants to come to Beijing,” Hein Verbruggen, a senior IOC official, said last week.

”It shows enormous interest in these Games, so we are pleased about that.”

IOC chief Jacques Rogge has spoken out about the heavy pollution in Beijing, but he has otherwise consistently praised the preparations.

”Everything is being implemented according to schedule and deadline,” Rogge said in Beijing during the one-year countdown celebrations to the Games at the beginning of August.

Altogether seven million tickets are being sold for the Beijing Olympics, 75% in China and the rest abroad.

Initially 1,6-million tickets were on offer from April in a first-stage process that was decided by lottery. That sale went off smoothly.

The now-suspended second phase is open only to people living in China. Overseas sales begin in April. — Sapa-AFP

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