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FIFA to probe empty seats

Lost Seoul: Even those who pre-booked are having probems getting tickets
Lost Seoul: Even those who pre-booked are having probems getting tickets  

By Andrew Demaria

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- Football's governing body FIFA has launched an investigation into why there were 3,500 empty seats at Friday's opening World Cup match at Seoul.

The game was declared a sellout by organizers, but only 62,651 spectators witnessed Senegal defeat France 1-0 in one of the biggest upsets in the tournament's history.

Seoul's World Cup stadium is listed as being able to seat 64,677 fans, but FIFA communications director Keith Cooper told a press conference on Saturday that 3,500 seats remained unfilled.

"There was noticeable space, especially in one corner. There was a total of 3,500 unused seats. That is now the subject of a study. We hope by tomorrow to have more information," Cooper said.

Cooper said that overall FIFA was "very satisfied" with the staging of the match and was played in a superb atmosphere.

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The empty seats, however, provided embarrassing pictures for television. It was estimated that around 500 million people tuned in for Friday's game.

Cooper said that one of the possible reasons was that organizers kept the section vacant in case there were problems from the ticketing database system. That way, fans that bought a ticket were guaranteed a seat, he said.

CNN has learned that several fans at the gates of the stadium without tickets were offered seating by officials at a discount price of 50,000 won instead of up to 500,000 won.


Prior to the game, there were scenes of frustration at Seoul's World Cup Ticket Office where dozens of fans queued up for hours to receive their purchased tickets.

While those that bought tickets over the Internet during a last minute sales phase had no problems using their credit cards at special ticketing machines to receive their tickets, others weren't so fortunate.

special ticketing machines
Fans who bought their tickets through special ticketing machines encountered less problems  

One fan arrived that day from France armed with his certificate of purchase only to be told that his ticket could not be located. He was then promised a ticket but was still waiting two hours later.

Another fan purchased seven tickets each for four people online but only received an allocation for himself.

"I have been in this line for three hours. I bought tickets for myself and my friends but was only delivered and charged for tickets for myself.

Now we are all here and they say there are no more tickets available," said an angry Scott Robinson who traveled from Seattle with his wife and friends.

FIFA's managing director of ticketing Enrique Byrom told CNN that the ticketing database would ensure that everyone who purchased a ticket would receive one, but admitted that the process of checking identification could be tedious and time-consuming.

Online problems

Byrom said that a lot of the issues were due to the online entering of information by the applicant.

"Some people have changed their address and failed to notify us, some have entered their surname instead of their first name. But we know exactly who should be in every seat so it can all be resolved," he said.

During the purchasing process, applicants had to nominate a city where they would pick up their tickets. Organizers would then dispatch the tickets to that location, Byrom said.

However, some fans had shown up in cities other than the one they nominated only to be told that their ticket was not there, Byrom said.

After delays in printing and receiving the tickets from a UK-based company, officials say that about 100,000 tickets still remain to be collected, most of them in Japan.

FIFA says that between 2,000 to 3,000 tickets at each match remained uncollected but this was "not unusual" as many fans had yet to arrive in Japan or South Korea.



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