Scalpers are technically subject to jail. But the black market for Olympics tickets is flourishing – sometimes right outside the venue.
The seven printed signs plastered over the windows of the ticket office outside the Workers’ Gymnasium say it all – in English and Chinese: “SOLD OUT."
Tickets to events at the 2008 Olympics here have been harder to find than at any Games in recent memory, according to fans who follow them every four years. But there are still a few available – at a price.
“Tickets, tickets, anyone need tickets?” The familiar cry of the scalper is making itself heard above the hubbub of the crowd in Beijing, as both local and foreign hustlers defy rules against re-selling tickets that the police had warned would be strictly enforced.
And for those reluctant to do street deals in public, Chinese and foreign websites are hosting advertisements by ticket sellers who prefer to be more discreet.
Wherever you look for tickets, though, be prepared to pay 10 times the face value for them, which seems to be the going rate.
Officials with the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) have given differing figures over the last year or so about ticket sales, and how many tickets were available for customers outside China. The best estimate appears to be that BOCOG kept about three-quarters for domestic sales, which is understandable when you think that they have 1.3 billion citizens to try to satisfy.
Whatever the exact figures, this year was “a catastrophe” for foreign fans, says Michel Perrin, a Frenchman who has brought 20 members of his judo club to Beijing for the Games.
In Atlanta, Sydney, and Athens, he bought all the tickets he wanted from official agents, he recalls. This year the French agency had so few tickets it would sell them only to customers who bought a travel and hotel package, too. Even the French judo team’s sparring partners could not get tickets.