Greeks appear more comfortable sitting out events

Locals root for home team, but many seats are empty

Athens 2004

August 17, 2004|By Dan Mihalopoulos | Dan Mihalopoulos,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ATHENS - The near-capacity crowd at the water polo venue lustily cheered "Hellas! Hellas!" after each goal by the Greek women yesterday. They whistled every time their Kazakh opponents took possession. And they shouted curses on the officials after every debatable call against the home team.

"Unless it's our national team or some well-known athletes who are playing, then we Greeks are not in the habit of going to sporting events," said Greek water polo fan Panayiotis Galiatsos after the Greeks beat Kazakhstan.

The raucous atmosphere at the water polo game contrasted sharply with the scene earlier yesterday at the Olympic badminton hall. Everyone in the building heard clearly when one Japanese fan yelled "Nippon!" as loudly as he could in a vain effort to stir the others in the small crowd.

During a round-of-32 men's singles match, virtually the only spectators were about 30 relatives and friends of Spain's Sergio Llopis and three supporters of Indian Nikhil Kanetkar, who eliminated Llopis.

"There aren't many Greeks here," said Manuel Sillero, Llopis' teacher at a physical education institute in Madrid. "It seems like the people of Athens are not really interested in the Games."

Three days after a sold-out Olympic Stadium witnessed the opening ceremony, the Greeks are showing they eagerly root, root, root for the home team.

Organizers say, however, they will not mark down tickets or give them away out of fairness to those who have already shelled out face value.

Sillero, the Spanish fan, said he bought a ticket worth 20 euros (about $25) for half-price from a scalper standing outside the tennis facility.

"I offered 10 euros," he said. "If I had offered 5 euros, [the scalper] would have given it to me for 5 euros."

And more than half of the seats were empty last evening as the women's team gymnastics medals were contested.

"I was surprised to see so many empty seats out there," said USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi. "There's been a lot of talk about security in these Games. It's been one of the front-line stories. Because of that, a lot of people didn't travel that were going to travel."

American attendance at these games will fall between 15 and 20 percent compared with four years ago in Sydney. Besides security concerns, the weak dollar is the major factor contributing to that decline, said Don Williams, vice president of sales and marketing for Cartan Tours, the U.S. Olympic Committee's official ticket agent.

About 3 million of the 5.4 million seats for sale to all Olympic events were sold as of yesterday. Athens 2004 organizers had set a goal of selling 3.4 million tickets.

Tribune staff writers Marlen Garcia and Philip Hersh in Athens contributed to this article. The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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