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Greeks rush for last-minute Games tickets

Posted: Sunday August 8, 2004 10:16PM; Updated: Sunday August 8, 2004 10:16PM
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ATHENS, Aug 8 (Reuters) -- Thousands of Greeks were queueing for hours on Sunday to buy tickets for the Olympics after organisers called for a boost in sales which initially had lagged.

With a record in daily sales broken every day in the past week, organisers were satisfied and surprised with the turnout.

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"We certainly did not expect this. The response is just magnificent," a senior Games official told Reuters on Sunday. "We are optimistic but we have to wait for the end of this coming week."

Until early last week organisers had sold less than half of the 5.2 million tickets for the August 13-29 Games, but with over 150,000 sold in three days, they were confident they would meet their target of 3.4 million before the Olympics start.

Concerns over previously slow ticket sales were also dismissed by International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge.

"The sales are going up day by day," the Belgian told a news conference on Sunday.

"I am not concerned. All my Greek friends tell me that there is a tradition in this country to buy tickets at the last minute."

SHARP RISE

Central Athens ticket-stands were crowded with Greeks notorious for their last minute-buying habits and organisers pledged to open four more selling points on Monday. Thousands more tickets are booked online and via the Games official bank.

The other four Olympic cities, which will host soccer matches, are also recording a sharp rise in sales.

The opening and closing ceremonies as well as most finals are sold out but tickets remain for most qualifying rounds.

"I already have several tickets including for the opening ceremony," one Athenian said, waiting in line. "But I'm buying more for all kinds of other sports I have never watched before, including hockey and badminton."

Forecasts that Greece, because of its geographic location and historic link to the Games, would sell more tickets than Sydney and more quickly, were initially proved wrong.

Growing security concerns and preparations marred by delays and in-fighting added to a drop in international sales.

But with the venues ready in time after years of speculation and the biggest ever peacetime security operation in Europe in place, organisers seem to have finally turned the corner.

Rogge added: "There are five days to go before the Olympics begin -- a proper judgment can be made then.

"We must remember Europe is a small continent. In just two hours flying time you can be from the edge of the west of Europe to Athens. Or from the north of Europe to Athens.

"This is not like Australia where you have to be in an aeroplane for a whole day before you get from one side of the country to the other."

(Additional reporting: Ossian Shine)

Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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