MOSCOW, August 13 (R-Sport) – Organizers of the IAAF World Athletics Championship - Russia's first major athletics event since the Olympics were held here in 1980 - are facing mounting concern over the feeble attendance at Moscow’s cavernous Luzhniki stadium that is hosting the event that opened Saturday morning.
Luzhniki was at just 69 percent capacity when Jamaican sprint star Usain Bolt won the men's 100m, the signature event of the world athletics championships in the Russian capital Sunday, according to figures released by organizers Tuesday.
Many of the world's top athletes are competing to sparse applause and dimly felt cheers, a disappointing comedown from the electric atmosphere at the London Olympic Games last summer. For instance, by the time Britain's Christine Ohuruogu stood on the podium around 10 p.m. Monday to collect her 400m gold medal, the stadium was left with only a handful of spectators sprinkled throughout tiers of empty red, orange and yellow seats.
Organizers claim 40,461 people scanned tickets at the gate for Sunday's evening session. That number was closer to the stadium's 59,000 weekend capacity than Saturday's evening total, when 31,895 were on hand to watch President Vladimir Putin give a speech at the opening ceremony.
Figures from early in the day have been abysmal, by comparison, with only 9,420 turning up Saturday morning, the first session of the nine-day event, to watch decathlon events and men's 100m preliminaries. Sunday morning fared slightly better with 12,861 on hand for more decathlon and men's 110m hurdles qualifying. Sprinter Kirani James suggested over the weekend that Sunday morning numbers were low because people were at church.
IAAF vice-president Sergei Bubka said Sunday between 80 percent and 85 percent of tickets had been sold for the whole event. He attributed the poor attendance over the weekend to summer sunshine tempting Muscovites to escape the city for a few days.
“Maybe some people bought tickets and didn't attend," he said. "I hope we will settle this issue, because for athletes the crowd is the most important."
The attendance issue has dogged Moscow for months. In April, IAAF president Lamine Diack criticized Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for failing to adequately promote the championships.
Tickets are being sold for as low as 100 rubles ($3).
The world championships in Daegu, South Korea, two years ago reportedly drew more than 400,000 spectators over nine days.