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Growing Conerns for Olympic Games in Russia

LONDON (AP)-- WHAT IF THEY HELD AN OLYMPICS AND NOBODY CAME? THE SITUATION ISN'T THAT BLEAK, OF COURSE, FOR THE SOCHI GAMES. YET, WITH LESS THAN THREE WEEKS TO GO UNTIL THE OPENING CEREMONY, HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF TICKETS REMAIN UNSOLD, RAISING THE PROSPECT OF EMPTY SEATS AND A LACK OF ATMOSPHERE AT RUSSIA'S FIRST WINTER OLYMPICS. THERE ARE SIGNS THAT MANY FOREIGN FANS ARE STAYING AWAY, TURNED OFF BY TERRORIST THREATS, EXPENSIVE FLIGHTS AND HOTELS, LONG TRAVEL DISTANCES, A SHORTAGE OF TOURIST ATTRACTIONS IN THE AREA, AND THE HASSLE OF OBTAINING VISAS AND SPECTATOR PASSES. SOCHI ORGANIZERS ANNOUNCED LAST WEEK THAT 70 PERCENT OF TICKETS HAVE BEEN SOLD FOR THE GAMES, WHICH RUN FROM FEB. 7-23 AND REPRESENT A SYMBOL OF PRIDE AND PRESTIGE FOR RUSSIA AND PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN. SO WHAT ABOUT THE REMAINING 30 PERCENT? ORGANIZING COMMITTEE CHIEF DMITRY CHERNYSHENKO SAYS ABOUT 213,000 SPECTATORS ARE EXPECTED AT THE GAMES, WITH ABOUT 75 PERCENT LIKELY TO BE RUSSIANS. SOCHI OFFICIALS HAVE REFUSED TO DIVULGE HOW MANY TICKETS IN TOTAL WERE PUT UP FOR SALE, SAYING THE FIGURE WOULD ONLY BE RELEASED AFTER THE GAMES. HOWEVER, ACCORDING TO IOC MARKETING DOCUMENTS SEEN BY THE AP, SOCHI HAD A TOTAL OF 1.1 MILLION TICKETS ON OFFER. THAT WOULD MEAN ABOUT 300,000 TICKETS REMAINED AVAILABLE. BY COMPARISON, 1.54 MILLION TICKETS WERE AVAILABLE FOR THE 2010 WINTER OLYMPICS IN VANCOUVER AND 97 PERCENT (1.49 MILLION) WERE SOLD. FOR THE 2012 SUMMER GAMES IN LONDON, ORGANIZERS SOLD 97 PERCENT (8.2 MILLION) OF THEIR 8.5 MILLION TICKETS. HEIBERG, WHO CHAIRS THE IOC MARKETING COMMISSION, SAID THE RUSSIANS HAVE CUT DOWN BY 50 PERCENT ON THE NUMBER OF SPECTATORS ORIGINALLY PLANNED FOR THE MOUNTAIN EVENTS FOR SECURITY REASONS. HEIBERG ORGANIZED THE 1994 LILLEHAMMER WINTER OLYMPICS, WHICH STOOD OUT FOR THE COLORFUL ATMOSPHERE GENERATED BY PASSIONATE NORWEGIAN FANS. SOCHI'S TICKET SALES BEGAN IN FEBRUARY 2013, A YEAR BEFORE THE GAMES. TICKETS HAVE BEEN SOLD ON SOCHI'S OFFICIAL WEBSITE ON A FIRST-COME, FIRST-SERVED BASIS. BOX OFFICES ARE NOW OPEN IN MOSCOW AND SOCHI. THE CHEAPEST TICKETS GO FOR 500 RUBLES ($15), THE MOST EXPENSIVE FOR 40,000 RUBLES ($1,200). MORE THAN HALF OF ALL TICKETS COST LESS THAN 5,000 RUBLES ($150). THE AVERAGE MONTHLY SALARY IN RUSSIA IS 30,000 RUBLES ($890). THE ONE AND ONLY AUTHORIZED TICKET OFFICE IN SOCHI WAS BUSY ON A RECENT AFTERNOON, WITH THREE DOZEN PEOPLE LINING UP AT WHAT ONCE WAS A WAITING ROOM AT THE CITY'S RAILWAY STATION. MANY, HOWEVER, COMPLAINED THAT ALL THE CHEAP TICKETS WERE ALREADY GONE. FANS OUTSIDE RUSSIA BUY TICKETS FROM AUTHORIZED DEALERS APPOINTED BY THEIR NATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEES. BACK-TO-BACK SUICIDE BOMBINGS KILLED 34 PEOPLE LAST MONTH IN VOLGOGRAD, ABOUT 400 MILES (640 KILOMETERS) FROM SOCHI. ON SUNDAY, AN ISLAMIC MILITANT GROUP IN RUSSIA'S NORTH CAUCASUS CLAIMED RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE BOMBINGS AND POSTED A VIDEO THREATENING TO STRIKE THE SOCHI GAMES. COSPORT, THE OFFICIAL TICKET RESELLER IN THE UNITED STATES AND SIX OTHER COUNTRIES, SAID THE SOCHI GAMES GENERATED ``GOOD DEMAND'' FOR TICKETS AND PACKAGES. FLIGHTS TO SOCHI ARE EXPENSIVE, AND MOST INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS HAVE TO GO THROUGH MOSCOW, WITH DIRECT FLIGHTS TO SOCHI ONLY AVAILABLE FROM GERMANY AND TURKEY. WESTERN TRAVELERS MUST NAVIGATE THE TIME-CONSUMING VISA PROCESS AND REQUIREMENT TO OBTAIN A ``SPECTATOR PASS'' ALONG WITH THEIR TICKETS. THIS REQUIRES PROVIDING PASSPORT DETAILS THAT ALLOW AUTHORITIES TO SCREEN ALL VISITORS. JAN SERENANDER, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF JET SET SPORTS IN NORWAY, CITED A LACK OF TOURIST ATTRACTIONS IN THE BLACK SEA RESORT. DIE-HARD WINTER SPORTS FANS, HOWEVER, WILL NOT BE DISCOURAGED. ORANGE-CLAD SPEEDSKATING FANS FROM THE NETHERLANDS ARE ALWAYS AMONG THE MOST VISIBLE SPECTATORS AT ANY WINTER GAMES.

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