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Olympic Games Rio 2016: Why So Many Empty Seats At Major Events?

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Empty seats seem to reflect the somber mood of the Rio 2016 Olympics and amid all this, host country Brazil is also confronted with turmoil left and right.

Images of major competitions — with apparently low attendance — have circulated on the web, causing many to compare this year's global sporting event with the previous Summer Olympics in London, which had packed stadiums.

The 2012 Olympics sold 8.2 million out of its 8.5 million tickets.

But Rio 2016 has sold only 84 percent of its tickets, or just a little more than 5 million, even as the event is already about to wrap up its first week.

Mario Andrada, speaking on behalf of the 2016 Olympic organizers, says the committee has reached its revenue goals by selling more of the pricier tickets. But the vacant seats suggest real interest in the Games has waned.

About five months before Rio 2016 kicked off, organizers reported only 50 percent of tickets had been sold. Fast forward to today: the only event that has sold out so far is the Opening Ceremonies.

So where are the 500,000 tourists expected to fly into Rio?

Andrada says about 75 percent of spectators at the events are Brazilians, who enjoyed ticket prices pegged at local rates. If the turnout for global travelers has been low, then it might have been due to a confluence of events and not just a single issue at hand.

Security Issues And The (Mis)Management Of Olympic Events

Among the most evident signs of the chaotic management of the Olympic Games are the long lines of spectators waiting to get in. The queue is not so much due to the volume of attendees as it is the bottleneck created by strict security measures employed at the venues. These logjams have even caused some fans to miss the actual games because people were stuck in long lines.

The queue for the volleyball matches at Copacabana Beach, for instance, has stretched several blocks into the distance despite the venue never having been filled, the Associated Press reports.

"Security overall remains our main priority, and we're going to keep an eye on it," Andrada says.

The tight security is the price spectators have to pay, given how Rio is notorious for kidnapping and drug-related crimes. But these aren't the only city problems Olympic watchers have to contend with just to enjoy a match. Traffic in Rio has compelled Mayor Eduardo Paes to ask residents to carpool instead, since the traffic jams also slow down the momentum of travel to and from the Olympic venues.

The Threat Of Zika Virus

The most serious concern people have raised about Rio 2016, however, has been about the Zika outbreak. The mosquito-borne virus, which reportedly causes microcephaly in a fetus, has spread in certain areas in North and South America, but Brazil has been one of, if not the hardest hit country the world over.

Despite calls to cancel or postpone the Rio Olympics, the World Health Organization (WHO) said discontinuing the Games would not pose any significant change to the way the Zika virus has been spreading globally. The WHO, however, recommends pregnant women avoid visiting places with a high transmission rate of the virus.

Brazil's Political And Financial Turmoil

Brazil was awarded hosting duties of the 2016 Olympics in 2009, when the Latin American country was on the brink of becoming an economic and political powerhouse as part of Brics.

Today, however, just as the Olympic Games are going into full swing, the country is seeing its own drama unfold. Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil, is facing impeachment over illegal accounting practices in her administration and the country itself is headed toward recession.

These political and economic instabilities have added to the perception of Brazil as being ill-prepared to host the world sporting event. But as Andrada puts it: "Even when we had some empty seats in stadiums, we never had a low [spirited] atmosphere."

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