SEOUL (AFP) – Online ticket sales for next year’s Winter Olympics opened in South Korea yesterday, with organisers admitting far fewer places had so far been sold than previously implied and concerns growing over North Korea’s nuclear antics.
The 2018 Pyeongchang Games will take place in a country with a limited winter sports tradition and far from the core markets of Europe and North America – making local attendance crucial to ensuring the grandstands are full.
But in the first phase of South Korean sales earlier this year, organisers offered 162,000 tickets in an application lottery – just over a quarter of their 600,000 target.
Worse still, they admitted Tuesday that only 52,000 of those tickets had actually been sold.
“It’s true that the first-phase sale was rather disappointing,” said Song Hun-Seok, media service chief at the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee.
“But we will make efforts to create a greater Olympic buzz with various build-up events” including performances and street campaigns, he said.
There are 1.18 million seats available for the two-week event next February.
Of those, 70 percent have been alloted to South Korean residents, with 30 percent going to overseas fans and sponsors through separate processes.
In all, POCOG said, 229,000 spots had been sold up to July 17, the latest figures available, including 177,000 to overseas fans.
That amounts to less than 20 percent of the total, with little more than five months to the opening ceremony.
Popular events such as ice hockey and figure skating have sold well, but there is lack of enthusiasm for snow events, where South Korea is weak.
Online and mobile sales on a first-come, first served basis began Tuesday in South Korea.
Full-price tickets available on the website ranged from as little as $18 for early rounds of cross-country skiing and bobsleigh, up to 900,000 won for top-tier seats at the men’s ice hockey final – although availability for that event was described as “low”.
Opening and closing ceremony tickets could also be had, at 1,500,000 won and 950,000 won for the best category seats respectively.
Officials sought to play down fears over the weapons ambitions of neighbouring North Korea, which carried out its sixth nuclear test at the weekend and tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July that appeared to bring much of the US mainland into range.
“Regardless of the jitters over the North’s nuclear drive, we’ll continue making preparations to ensure the Olympics will be a success,” POCOG spokesman Sung Baikyu said.
“We’ve been under constant threats from the North and the atmosphere here is much calmer than it may look to foreign eyes”, he said.